American suzuki held its annual dealer meeting in late September. Suzuki was the last of the major manufacturers to gather retailers for the year. Some retailers agreed with the OEM's thoughts on past and future plans; others did not. That was similar to what I'd heard from dealers at the Arctic Cat and KTM dealer meetings.
Last year Suzuki introduced 14 new or radically updated products but didn't deliver the product in the numbers promised. Why? Due to the down economy, the factory in Japan cut allocation. The way Suzuki sees it, failure to deliver left many of the "healthy" dealers with a shortage of products, which made them upset. But, using Suzuki corporate math, the "unhealthy" dealers who weren't able to move product due to the down economy should've ended the year with very few non-currents left on the floor.
For 2009, Suzuki scaled down, introducing only five new models and updating only a handful of others. "I think the last thing they wanted to do is flood the market and become Polaris-like," said one Suzuki/Polaris retailer.
But Suzuki itself admits that selling units is not necessarily the key to success. As a result, the OEM at its Las Vegas dealer meeting presented other avenues dealers could take to help improve their earnings, including the Suzuki Select certified pre-owned program, the higher-margin parts-and-accessories business, training of sales staff in retail proficiency, building an online presence, holding events to grow brand loyalty, and so on. To further its point, Suzuki also offered seminars on ways to ride out the economic downturn; sales efficiency; outfitting bikes with parts and accessories; maintaining sales and F&I profits; e-commerce; and generally building an image for success.
Sadly, and this is the kicker to my argument here, each seminar could've held more participants. It seems many dealer representatives chose to gamble, drink and/or lie by the pool instead. Bottom line: There is no helping those who don't know enough to help themselves.
Dealers are only as successful as they are knowledgeable. A dealer needn't be a megastore to be profitable. Judging by Suzuki's awards ceremony, even the smallest of dealerships cultivated success in the past year. Oneida Suzuki (Oneida, N.Y.) received the Top Accessory Dealer award; Calmes Motor Sports (Denham Springs, La.) won for best long-form video with an innovative infomercial for the Hayabusa sportbike featuring local rap artists; the best customer satisfaction index score went to Suzuki City (Biloxi, Miss.), which achieved an average CSI of 98 in the past year; Sports Cycle Suzuki (Leesburg, Pa.) took home honors for community service; Brothers Motor Sports (Baxter, Minn.) won the Outstanding Merchandising award; and Donnell's Suzuki (Independence, Mo.), took home the manufacturer's annual service award — something Donnell's has managed to do for 25 consecutive years.
When you're attending your annual dealer meeting, don't look at the event as a vacation you think you've earned. Look at it as a learning opportunity. Your troubles may not be caused solely by your supplier. Remember, there's a guy out there who made millions by selling pet rocks. Certainly you can do better.
Guido Ebert Senior Editor firstname.lastname@example.org.