What a difference a year makes.
We knew last weekend would be an interesting one, as it was the first coming-out party for Tucker Rocky since it had merged with MAG and, separately (or not), initiated wholesale organizational changes, re-divvied its market segments, elevated veterans like Charlie Hadayia and bought on market experts like Phil Davy. Whether the dealers went to Texas or not in late July, there was going to be a guaranteed buzz on the show floor.
But let’s talk about the products first. What did we learn from one of the biggest distributor shows of the season?
- The ATV/UTV aftermarket has revved up, with lots of companies unveiling lots of add-ons (and add-ons that can accommodate more add-ons...), especially for the Polaris and Arctic Cat lineups. Light kits, hard parts, performance boosts, tracks, suspensions, seats, containers, tires, exhausts, cabs, roofs, number plates – if you can sell the vehicle, you have plenty of accessories to entice your customer further, so pay attention to what’s available. Personalization is the name of the game.
- Service department productivity seems to be on everyone’s minds, with many of the parts and systems we saw offering “reduced installation time” benefits not only for service techs but for your DIY customers.
- On the Harley side, we’re now seeing parts and accessories for the 2014 bikes – with installation approaches that preserve the design integrity of the newer models.
- Apparel is evolving. Brands that carried the sale these past few years are now being reworked, updated, streamlined. Performance and style are going hand-in-hand. The look seems to be cleaner and suitable for riding no matter what vehicle your customer mounts. A leather jacket looks just at home on a café racer as it does on a cruiser.
- Protective gear, especially new jackets, suits, helmets and other items for the adventure tourer to the racer, is getting more sophisticated, with continued emphasis on performance and comfort.
We also learned that accompanying this hub of ingenuity in the aftermarket is a cautious optimism among the dealers. Most were acknowledging yet another late start to the selling season (thank you, Mother Nature) but that sales were now fairly steady. The good news is that many retailers approached 2014 a bit savvier after getting pounded last year and thus were able to better weather (no pun intended) the slow start.
Tucker Rocky claimed 740 preregistered dealers to Brand Expo, up from last year, and by unscientifically eyeballing the crowd I believe that maybe half showed up. We noted that many Polaris dealer principals were not in Texas to see all the ATV/UTV products because they were, naturally, at the Polaris dealer show and new vehicle rollout in Minnesota. It’s hard to compete with a Slingshot.
Clearly, the Brand Expo, as the TR dealer show is now called, reflected the benefit that Tucker Rocky now receives as a result of the merger – marquee MAG brands such as Roland Sands and Vance & Hines were in Texas, along with veteran TR-distributed MAG properties such as Mustang and Küryakyn, and interest was keen. Whether the marriage causes some of the non-family V-twin brands distributed by Tucker Rocky to migrate elsewhere has yet to be seen.
Tucker also managed to lure to this year’s show some marquee (non-MAG) brands like Metzeler/Pirelli, James Gaskets and 100%. Longtime Biker's Choice exec Charlie Hadayia was recently given responsibility for all of the non-owned product segments, so expect further activity in this area, said Hank Desjardins, marketing vice president.
Desjardins said that there is still work to be done in the helmet and apparel lines. “It is a real green field for us,” he said, and indicated that the distributor will seek to “acquire and investigate” new brands.
“We have some inherent opportunities to improve” in helmet and apparel, he added, “but we also have inherent strengths” in the house apparel brands, like Firstgear and Speed and Strength. Davy separately told us they would be working on differentiating MSR and Answer so they more readily appeal to different customer segments.
The distributor is investing in infrastructure – creating a robust relational database for dealer ordering; reworking the organizational chart and announcing lots of job openings; and adding warehouse capacity that includes the installation of high-density pick conveyor systems which, TR President Dan Courtney said, will speed up overnight delivery to retailers.
One would think that the warehouse investment would be prompted by the fact that two of the largest online retailers in our industry -- MotorcycleSuperstore.com and J&P Cycles – are now sister properties to Tucker Rocky as a result of the MAG merger. Courtney and Desjardins were quick to convey loyalty to the entrenched brick-and-mortars.
Both MS.com and J&P were high-volume customers of TR prior to the merger, and Courtney said they will continue to operate independently. “They will grind on us like they did before,” he said.
“It’s the only way it’s going to work,” Courtney explained. “We can’t ‘advantage’ them.’ He said there is no upside to giving preference to the two online powerhouses at the expense of core dealer relations. “We are not going to jeopardize the greater whole,” he added.
So is Tucker Rocky bullish on the future? Maybe. The mood among the distributor reps was certainly upbeat, but that can be partly attributable to the fact that the vendors are giving them lots of new stuff to sell.
Courtney expressed confidence in what the company is doing but caution when it came to factors out of its control. Overall economic conditions in the United States have to improve before the industry starts seeing any real growth again, he said. Consumer credit must loosen beyond the dealer’s ability to qualify only two in 10 customers for a vehicle purchase, he noted.
It will likely take political change (good luck with that), economic growth and regained confidence in the retail sector for sales to become as exciting the powersports products themselves.