Motorcycle trailers: A new road to tow

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OK, I’ll admit it: I trailer my bike.

I hate freeway riding, so I even trailer my bike from Oceanside to Santa Barbara, the home of my best buddy and the gateway to some of California’s best riding. The distance between my place and his is about 200 miles — a morning jaunt for an Iron Butter — but the two are separated by Orange and Los Angeles counties, and one of the nation’s most congested interchanges, the mess where interstates 10 and 405 meet.

It’s possible to make the trip in less than four hours, but not likely, even on a motorcycle. And frankly, the intensity of splitting lanes for miles in stop-and-go traffic has lost the lure it once held for me. I’d much rather ramp my bike onto my trailer, throw on an audio book and get to Santa Barbara in relative comfort, at a slower pace.

I bought my trailer, a Kendon stand-up model, about 15 years ago when I was living in Georgia. It’s seen a lot of use over the years: a friend of mine used it to tow his race bikes with it for a season. I’ve loaned it to buddies who towed their bikes to Texas (and whom subsequently bought a trailer of their own).

It’s been cross-country a couple of times, and to Baja on several occasions. It also comes in handy for those times when one of my Brit bikes calls it quits in the back country and I need to get to a dealer or back home.

I recently talked to Frank Esposito, president of Kendon Industries and chairman of the MIC Aftermarket Committee, about the health of the aftermarket. It seems the aftermarket is flat to up slightly, with tires, oil and batteries selling well. My curiosity was piqued about how Kendon was fairing — after all, a trailer is at the higher end of accessories, probably not considered a need except for off-road riders, and not exactly an impulse item.

A CHANGING AUDIENCE
Esposito said that like most of the aftermarket, Kendon had a great start in January. In fact, Kendon had the biggest January it ever had, but it was impacted by the same things that affected the rest of the aftermarket: weather and tight customer wallets.

That being said, he indicated that the global market has expressed an increased interest, and that the real action had shifted to Kendon’s lifts. ”Lift sales are up to where we’re having difficulty keeping them in stock,” Esposito says. “We’re finding that people buy a lift; they can store their bike on it, put it away easily when they don’t need it, and use it like a wash bay. They’re finding it’s a lot easier to detail your bike when you don’t have to sit down on the ground.”

So, who buys a trailer? Apparently, the audience is changing. “It used to be that most people bought a trailer to take their bike in for repair. Now the perception is growing that a trailer can add a new dimension to their motorcycling experience in that it increases the opportunity for adventure,” Esposito says.

He cites a client who works for Land Rover, doing demos and attending Land Rover Rallies on the company’s behalf. He now tows his FJ1300 to events, and when he’s done with his Land Rover chores, celebrity rides and rally duties, he off-loads his bike and rides the area.

SHOULD YOU SELL TRAILERS?
When I was with Kawasaki, we looked at selling trailers as part of a Jet Ski package but concluded that the product was too bulky and space-consuming for us to inventory and ship, and too regional for us to compete, pricewise. Kendon products are distributed nationwide by Custom Chrome and Tucker Rocky, who have warehouses located throughout the states.

Esposito says that in a market where even incremental increases in business are important, trailer sales (and rentals) can generate a fair amount of business.

“Sure,” he said, “you can use a U-Haul trailer, but it’s an adaptive product, and not very good for transporting motorcycles. In addition, after a season of rentals, the trailer can be sold.”

To achieve success, dealers need to stock the product and work it into a demo fleet; give folks a chance to see how convenient it is to use and store. Dealers must look at the trailer business as a long-term investment.

Some customers will shop online. “We’re not anti-Internet, we embrace it,” he says. “But with regard to our products, there are things e-sellers can’t do. For instance, they can’t sit down with a customer to discuss the details of his needs, the type of tow vehicle, how to load, or discuss accessories to compensate for their body strength and so on.”

(Editor’s note: Kendon is using the Shopatron system to funnel e-sales to dealers.)

PRODUCT DIFFERENTIATION
Dealers need to differentiate themselves by picking unique products, ones that need to be seen and that require salesmanship and demonstration. “It’s critical that the dealership doesn’t simply become a catalog store,” Esposito says. “It’s important that dealers look at margins as well; there’s a certain amount of discounting that goes on with so many products. With Kendon, you aren’t competing with lots of nearby dealers. You have the opportunity to make more profit percentage than by selling a vehicle. “In all, we’re very positive about the season in front of us, but we’re going to have to make it happen.”

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews July 2011 issue.