TAW Distribution aims to take a powersports niche mainstream

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Historically, high-end aftermarket products have mostly been the the focus of a small number of niche distributors working with a limited network of specialty dealers — namely those stores with a race-oriented customer base pining for pricey European brands.

With TAW Performance Distribution, Wayne Rodgers wants to change all that.

The newly minted distribution business is the exclusive importer of Marchesini wheels and one of two companies distributing Brembo's high-end braking components. The Sonoma, Calif.-based company is also set up to distribute products from Ferodo and Works Racing Parts. Rodgers, a former rally car racer and executive with Brembo North America and its Italian parent company, says he's taking a broader approach to distribute fairly niche products.

"We want to make technical and performance parts available to all dealers, not just a few specialists," says Rodgers, TAW's president of performance motorcycle division. "For the dealer to have a comfort factor [with these products] they need to have the assurance that both the manufacturer and its distributor will help them through the process from the presale to the after sale.

"Unlike apparel, which is mostly down to fit and fashion and usually the decision of the buyer, technical parts need advice. Maybe the customer is not aware which part he needs to improve his bike and if so, how does it work. We can't expect every dealer to answer that question and therefore we offer that "hand-holding" service to the dealer to ensure he gets the right part to the customer and achieves satisfaction."

The company is already up and running with a primary warehouse in Northern California, and is planning on using Dealer Expo in February to announce not only a new midwest shipping hub, but an exclusive agreement with the high-end U.K. exhaust manufacturer, Scorpion. The distributor is currently assembling an outside sales force that will cover all the major markets in the United States, a team that should be in place in time for the Indy show.

Changing environment

In launching TAW, Rodgers is taking what was once a small Colorado-based family-run business and tweaking it to compete in a rapidly changing environment. (The business was purchased in February 2010 under Rodgers' guidance by the Richard Martin Group, which supplies performance products to the auto racing industry.)

In recognizing that the powersports distribution channel has changed drastically over the past three years or so, Rodgers says he is structuring the company around the new business paradigm — namely, because dealers no longer wish, or afford, to stock items, a distributor needs to be able to respond quickly to consumer demand.

"Having the inventory in place will be key, as the dealers can no longer offer any form of forecast," he says. "We have to be 'switched-on' enough to understand demand and get it right. With margins being squeezed along the supply chain, it's critical to avoid overstock or obsolete stock.

He also believes that many manufacturers — not just techy Euro brands — are looking for a distributor that will put a heavy emphasis on product knowledge and education, not just moving volume.

"We've got a specialist mentality and focus, but are taking it nationwide," Rodgers says.

Service and education

Given the nature of the products carried by TAW, Rodgers says that education, support and training will be a major focus of the relationship between the distributor and its dealer network. He also points out his background with the Brembo Group, saying his longlasting relationship — he received management's blessings before leaving to start up TAW — allows him to serve as a liaison between manufacturers and the U.S. market. He believes he can help the companies better understand what American motorcyclists want and respond to the market's fast-paced changes.

TAW's customer service focus is important not only because of the technical nature of the the product line, says TAW's sales director, Ed Mulhall, but because many dealership are running skeleton crews and can't afford to waste any extra time helping service customers. The goal, Mulhall adds, is to answer any day-to-day questions or issues before they arise.

"We have a customers service/tech support line with a dedicated tech manager and product specialist who is available for technical or customer service support Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST," Mulhall says. "In many cases we will have the dealer's customer call us direct so we can make sure the end user is getting the most accurate information possible."

In addition to providing technical support, TAW's sales team will help reinforce the importance for dealers to focus on selling the value of the products — something important for highly speclialized, high-end motorcycle accessories with steep R&D costs — to help hold margin and protect the brand.

"There is no reason to discount this type of product," Mulhall says. "The customer can be assured that they are getting their money's worth. Brembo and Marchesini are world renowned products based on quality, not quantity. Unless the dealers understands why the prices are set the way they are, they will not be successful selling them [the products] to their customers.

"Having the product knowledge will ensure that they will be able to get their full margin. A customer who wants these types of products will pay what they are worth."

To help educate customers, TAW has been on tour with the Progressive International Motorcycle Shows (which is owned and operated by Dealernews' parent company Advanstar). The idea is put products such as Brembo's consumer-direct HPK line directly in front of riders, many of whom perceive the brand as too pricey, too techie or something that's available only to OEMs.

"The line is affordable and the product uses all the same technology that MotoGP and World SBK teams are using, but is designed for the rigorous use of day-to-day riding," Mulhall notes.