Tips: Dealers, stop feeling like economic victims

Publish Date: 
Apr 24, 2012
By Holly J. Wagner

Ever sat in an Apple retail store for a couple of hours to watch the customers? How about the Macy’s cosmetics department to find out how women react in a retail setting?

These aren’t the first ideas that spring to most dealers’ minds when they think about how to increase sales. Yet Kevin Freiberg, who exhorted dealers to “Innovate or Perish” in his Feb. 17 keynote address at the 2012 Dealer Expo and American V-Twin Dealer Show, wants even the most successful dealers to think outside the box, and look at other retail markets for unconventional cues to improve service and sales.

A month after the show, we contacted Freiberg, a mainstream business motivation speaker who has led presentations in front of everyone from Fortune 100 conglomerates to, for the first time, an assembled community of powersports dealers this past February. We were curious to understand his impressions of the industry, and what he would advise dealers now that he’s more acquainted with the market.

It seems he believes powersports is a little too self-contained — and that’s a trait that might scare away more new customers than it attracts.

“Sometimes an industry can be incestuous. ‘If it is not invented here, if it did not come out of our industry, it ain’t s**t,’” he says.

Powersports “is an incredible industry, with huge potential, that has a ways to go in living up to that potential,” he says. “You’ve got to get smarter, get better, get faster, and be more willing to get out of the traditional comfort zones.”

It sounds obvious to tell dealers that they need to focus on what they can offer customers to keep them coming back. But what Freiberg is talking about is adopting new approaches that will keep existing clients happy, while turning casual visitors into long-term customers.

One of the best ways to generate fresh ideas is to get out of your own store. “Where do new ideas about how to run your business or deal with your suppliers come from? They don’t come from dealing with the same people, looking at the same computer, day after day,” he says.

So observe the businesses that are serving the customers you want to have. “Go study every retailer outside of your space that is hitting it out of the park. You don’t think the Apple store has anything to teach you about how to run your business? Go sit in the corner with your iPad, or whatever you use, and watch,” Freiberg says. “If I were these dealers, I would go to places enthusiasts hang out — outside the industry.”

Many dealerships already build their businesses around community — offering rides, bike nights and events that keep people tied to the store. Now they must figure out how to build that community with online tools (like social media) and keep it linked to the physical community that attends events.

“It’s getting out of the ‘either/or’ mentality,” Freiberg says. “[Dealers] may say that technology or social media is ‘not for me because I am not selling online.’ Or maybe they are, but the major play is still getting people in the door.” Forsaking one for the other leaves opportunities for competitors, including e-tailers, to move in.

Another piece of advice is to stop acting like a victim. “You are a victim of price competition, but you get to choose whether you are going to be victimized,” he says. “Why not use that social media to reach me? It’s not about a one-off helmet. It’s about building a relationship with me. Compel me not to go to that online channel.”

Any business that builds its clientele around enthusiastic participants may have something to teach powersports dealers.

Freiberg uses himself as an example. A few years ago he learned to ride a motorcycle. When he was ready to buy a bike, his wife counseled him to rent for a while instead. After a year, he decided he wasn’t comfortable riding with his wife or child on the back, so he gave up motorcycling in favor of activities he felt were more family-friendly.

“If I’d have had somebody with sales staff trained to say, ‘We just want to get to know you. What brought you in, and what did you want to accomplish?’ that could have been a powerfully different experience,” he says.

The overarching message is to constantly evolve, try new things and take chances. Be willing to look critically at your own business.

“In life and certainly in business, the really successful are the people who are willing to face the brutal facts of reality,” Freiberg says. “The dealers that are going to be around 10 years from now are the ones who will say, ‘We really do a good job in these 20 areas, but in these five, we suck.’”

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews May 2012 issue.