Not the Bad News Bearers

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economy sales slump challenging market

We in the publishing world are all too often the bearers of bad news.

Over the past year or so, there has been no shortage of dark stories that needed telling. Bankruptcies. The rising cost of doing business. The weakening dollar. Job losses. Falling sales. You name it.

But with each new day bringing yet another round of troubling economic news, the Dealernews crew is starting to feel like the Four Editors of the Apocalypse.

It's not our intention to focus solely on the negative, especially in trying times, but it is our intention to tell it straight and sometimes the straight story isn't the one anyone really wants to hear. Trust me, it's no fun doling out the ugly stuff. It weighs on you.

And as much as we want to keep it real, we also know that we don't need to tell you that things are bad. Most of you can see this first-hand. What we really hope to do is help you deal with it by supplying you information that can be used to run a solid business.

In this month's issue we arranged a roundtable discussion with a handful of Top 100 dealers from around the country and surveyed them on their plans and views for the coming year. We also asked them to weigh in on what they believed were important issues.

Jim Boltz of Washington state's Cycle Barn empire says that now, more than ever, dealers need to buddy up to protect their agenda. Boltz, a big player in his state's dealer association, urges dealers to attend the meeting of the National Council of Motorcycle Dealer Associations at Dealer Expo in February. Not only is a state association easy to form, it also gives those dealers a large legislative voice, Boltz says.

Our cover dealer from November 2008, Tom Hicks, says that despite slumping sales dealers need to learn how to improve their business skills before resorting to discounting. "Discount advertising does nothing but give away your margin before the customer even walks through the door, and degrades and cheapens the brand to the dealer network," says Hicks, owner of Southern California Motorcycles.

Responding from his dealership out in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Bill Hearne says he wants to know how far the OEMs are cutting back on production. "In order for the industry to be poised to rebound quickly when conditions improve, it is critical that there not be an overabundance of product in either dealer's or OEM inventories," says the owner of Outdoor Motorsports. Hearne is also seeking quick and accurate data on the changing market conditions by product class and is curious what percentage of financing turndowns dealers are seeing compared to four months ago.

We also inquired about where they were cutting back, what they were focusing on and how they were going to keep customers coming through their doors, so we could give our readers some ideas of what others are doing. What they told was and wasn't surprising. How many shops are taking janitorial services in-house? (Turn to page 28 for the full report).

Logistically, it was impossible to ask every one of our readers for their input for this article, but I can do it here. How can we help you help yourself during these troubling times? Also, let us know what you're doing to keep things running. Be specific when you write us at editors@dealernews.com or via the post. We don't want to miss a thing.

Dennis Johnson Senior Editor dennis.johnson@dealernews.com