"We Sell Hot Products!"

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THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF COMPANIES in the motorcycle business: those that advertise and those that go out of business. Every successful business advertises — period.

When a business owner utters the phrase I can't afford to advertise, one of two things will likely happen. Either he'll change his plans and start advertising, or his business will close within a short time. And what is the first thing he does when he plans to go out of business? That's right — he advertises his Going Out of Business Sale! Had he done some smart advertising all along, the GOB sale might have been avoided.

A business requires income to remain solvent. Income is offered only through paying customers. Only people who know about your business will become customers. But first they must find out that you exist. That's why you advertise.

As a former franchised Triumph, Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Laverda and ATK dealer, I have been where many of you are: trying to create new customers while keeping current ones. I've also been an advertising manager for major chopper and hot rod auto magazines, where I have heard testimony from shops and manufacturers about what advertising works for them (and what doesn't). I believe that print advertising offers the most bang for the buck for most powersports retail businesses.

PRINT ADVERTISING

There are three basic types of print advertising outlets: direct mail pieces, local and regional publications, and national pubs. Each has a purpose, along with its own advantages and drawbacks.

Direct mail works best for soliciting repeat business from existing customers and specifically targeted new ones. Your mailing list needs to focus on people who are predisposed to the products you sell. Sending Kawasaki sportbike brochures to a kennel club's mailing list or even to Harley owners is probably not the best use of your precious ad dollars.

Direct mail newsletters seem to work better than 100 percent advertising brochures, especially with existing customers. Your direct mail piece can be a combination of sales tool, news and tips, and insider news. Reward loyal customers with a coupon for products to keep them coming back to your store.

Local and regional publications. I don't mean to knock the publishers of free- distribution local and regional powersports publications, because they serve a definite purpose. However, as an advertiser, you need to be aware of the staying power of these publications. I refer to them as "outhouse papers" for the simple reason that most of them don't stay around any longer than one or two trips to the bathroom; then they go in the trash can.

Most of your potential customers will thumb through the freebie regional paper once or twice, scanning for three things: upcoming events, pictures of them and their buddies from past events, and any ad that catches their attention. Then it goes into the trash. If you run an ad in one of those publications, it had better be an eye-grabber, because you'll only get one fleeting chance to catch your customers' attention.

National magazines are a more prestigious venue for your ad, but they only work if you have something to sell on a national scale. Also, your ad will be competing for attention with ads from many other companies, some with tons of money to spend on advertising creative. But if you have the product and the right ad message, they can do wonders for your business. Savvy advertisers use their print ads to 1) hook the customer's attention and 2) direct them to a Web site or an 800 number, where the actual sale takes place.

The good thing about slick, national motorcycle, ATV and other powersports magazines is that they usually don't get tossed for at least a month, when the next issue shows up. Because they reach a larger, less casual audience than the freebie papers, national media ads cost more, but not when viewed in a pennies-per-reader standpoint. Just be sure to get the actual "sold copies" number from the publisher's sales representative.

If you run a service-only shop, national advertising is a waste of money unless you do something so unique that guys are willing to ship their bikes, swing arms, and/or engines to you. Such an offering might include something as simple as the world's coolest T-shirt or carbon fiber components that can be easily and economically shipped.

ADS THAT WORK

Successful advertisements have some things in common — they are fresh, eye-catching and offer company identification.

Todd Huber, marketing director at Lucky 13 Clothing (www.lucky13apparel.com) refuses to run the same ad twice. Each full-page ad is unmistakably a Lucky 13 ad, but each one is different. Every full-page ad features a beautiful model photographed by Huber himself, and sends readers to the company's Web site to view its array of products.

Coker Tire Co. (www.coker.com) has way too many different styles and sizes of antique motorcycle tires to show them in its normal Antique Motorcyclist ad. Instead it shows seven different ones, and then directs the reader to its 800 number and interactive Web site for application information and a complete listing of all tires.

Note that neither advertiser attempts to jam miniscule photos of a hundred different products into a one-page ad. Instead, they whet the customer's appetite with a few goodies and let their phone operators and Web sites do the selling.

Simple is best. Many advertisers try to jam too much into their ads. If a full-page ad is warranted, buy a full page. Don't try to jam a full page worth of material into a quarter- page-or-smaller ad space. Most people won't bother to read it; it's too much work. Instead, use your ad to capture their interest.

If you offer a catalog or even a multi-page brochure, do like the very successful J&P Cycles or Dennis Kirk; use the ad to sell the catalog. The ad shouldn't be the catalog. Advertising is a must for any business that intends to survive. I've seen companies drop their advertising as a first-ditch effort to counter sagging income. This is exactly the opposite of what they should do.

SIZE AND COLOR

Ads are usually priced by the square inch, no matter what the shape. Two half-page ads fit on a single publication page, but only if the ads are both half-page horizontal or vertical.

If you buy a half-page "island" ad, yours will be the largest object on the page because it will be surrounded either by smaller ads or editorial material. A half-page island ad is a smart buy because it enables your ad be king of the page for the price of half a page.

As long as your ad is designed correctly, two-color ads can be as effective as four-color but can cost 30 percent to 40 percent less in publications that run two-color or black-and-white press forms. A small black and white ad can sometimes get lost in the shuffle, but adding one bright highlight color like yellow or bright green can make the ad pop off the page.

Alan Mayes is the managing editor of Ol' Skool Rodz and Car Kulture DeLuxe magazines. Send questions and comments to editors@dealernews.com.