Motorcycle shows offer dealers chance to sell their brand

Mike Vaughan
Publish Date: 
Jan 13, 2014
By Mike Vaughan

I just returned from the International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach. I assume most people go to see the new motorcycles, new aftermarket offerings and possibly to encounter old friends.

As usual the OEs were out in force, although with smaller displays than they’ve used in the past. No matter, the bikes were there and there was ample opportunity to sit on them, shake them side-to-side (although I do this too, I’m not sure why), pick up literature, compare models and maybe buy some gear or trick accessory that a vendor has on sale.

Though I seldom buy anything, one of the best parts of the show are the vendors who are there selling merchandise, helmets, gloves, riding suits, jackets, boots, and all kind of gizmos to enhance your ride and yourself, either cosmetically or functionally, and this year there seemed to be plenty of merchandise available.

The show, managed by Advanstar’s Powersports Group, the parent of Dealernews, drew 54,527 attendees over three days. I was told by someone who should know that most retail exhibitors were pleased with the turnout, and at least one stated that it was their best show since 2007.

What has always perplexed me about these shows is the lack of interest in them by dealers. I understand that dealers attend, but very few participate. Over the years at both Kawasaki and Triumph, it was one of my missions to encourage, entice, lure and bribe dealers to at least come in and work the exhibit. The response, to say the least, was usually less than enthusiastic.

For a few years we were minimally successful. Some dealers would turn up, hand out business cards and spend a few hours working in the booth. We even displayed maps spotting their locations, so a consumer could easily locate the dealer nearest to them. At the latest edition of the Long Beach show, I noted that even that minimal effort had ceased.

Dealers have told me that the people who attend are not their customers, and I’ll admit that the people drifting through an exhibit can be from far away, and not really interested in your specific product or dealership, so that’s a valid point. Others have balked at the expense of attending, losing time at their store, hotel rooms, food, etc., all with some truth.

What makes the saga all the more interesting is if there’s some dealer in the area that wants to work the OE booth, and those who don’t accuse the OE of “playing favorites, or being unfair.” Excuse me? Everyone has the same opportunity to participate or not, if it’s a bad idea, then why should a competing dealer complain? The participating dealer’s presumably just going to spend money and time needlessly, why should a competitor care?