Socialize and unite the motorcycle industry

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We need to talk. All of us. Everyone in this industry needs to talk to each other a lot more than we currently do. Sure there’s the occasional show where we all get together (like Dealer Expo) and there’s the inevitable gripe session that is sure to break out whenever a few dealer principals get together at an OEM show or 20 group meeting. But what I’m talking about is more of an ongoing, broad-based, industry-wide series of conversations about the important issues that affect us every day.

Once again, the Internet can step in to help. If there’s one thing that the Internet is great at, it’s providing a common meeting space where like minds can get together and discuss whatever hot issues are top of mind.

I’m sure a lot of you are part of a 20 group and recognize that quite often, these gatherings are great places to share and discover new ideas that have the potential to improve your business — or even help grow our industry as a whole. Some of you may even have an e-mail list where you keep those discussions going. I’d like to propose that as an industry we expand that idea and start taking advantage of some of the discussion forums that already exist.

I’m going to focus on two specific places where I recommend we start gathering to have some lively discussions.

The first is LinkedIn. If you’re not on LinkedIn already, you really need to be. LinkedIn is pretty much the best professional social networking site out there right now. In addition to its potential to build a network, LinkedIn has a feature called Groups. Groups are like mini-forums built right into the LinkedIn framework. A big part of these groups are the discussions, and that’s what I’m focusing on here.

There are already some great groups on LinkedIn aimed at our industry. In fact, it was the discussion from a few months ago about vendors competing with their own customers (prompted by blog posts at Dealernews.com) that really motivated me to write last month’s column. But what’s really lacking are more members and more active discussions of issues that really affect everyone: MAP policies, national and state legislation, general business issues, and just general brainstorming.

Here are a few of my suggestions about groups to join. These were picked because they focus on our industry, and as of this writing, they have more members than some of the other groups. I don’t have any stake beyond wanting to push toward a critical mass of users to make the groups more useful.

The first is Motorcycle Industry Professionals (http://linkd.in/motoindprof). This group is a pretty high-level group that covers more than just dealers. It already has over 1,000 members and it has hosted a few pretty good discussions.

Next up is the Motorcycle OEM Network (www.oemnetworkgroup.com). This is a good group to be in if the goal is to engage in some constructive conversations among the OEMs and their dealers.

Wrapping up LinkedIn we have the most obvious, the Motorcycle Dealers Group (http://linkd.in/motodealers). Unfortunately this group has only about 100 members, and for the sake of this month’s column, it’s the one I want to see really bloom.

Finally, we have Dealernews’ own Shop Talk (www.dealernews.com/shoptalk). You really should be a member of this social network because you’ll also be kept informed of blog posts from the Dealernews staff as well as other important information from your peers.

So now that you’ve signed up, start participating! Ask questions: What impact are electric bikes going to have on our industry? What kinds of features should the ultimate DMS system have? What kinds of new parking lot events break the mold of the tired-out “open house”? If you see a question or discussion that you can provide valuable insight, jump in!

So now we’re left with the big question of why. Why do I want to poke, prod and encourage all of you to participate in these discussion forums? It’s because I want to make sure that our industry sticks around as long as possible. I want the fundamental structure of small- and medium-sized dealerships to be able to compete with the growing threat of mega-online shopping sites and direct-to-consumer sales from PG&A manufactures and vehicle OEMs. I’m positive that if we can start addressing more and more issues that are pressing on our businesses as a collective business unit, the stronger we will be.

In the absence of a strong, nationwide, dealership-focused trade organization that has a vibrant and active membership, maybe we can build it ourselves using the amazing potential of existing social networking sites like LinkedIn and Dealernews’ ShopTalk. Fingers crossed!

This story originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Dealernews.