Let Dealernews Be Your Public Voice

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Note: The following was written back in April for our May issue.

Dealer Jack O’Neill complains in this month’s “InBox” about how difficult it was this year to earn co-op advertising funds for his Yamaha PWC business. To get funds at all, he said, he would have had to order at least 90 percent of what Yamaha recommended. Instead he ordered 50 percent and got nothing.

We rarely get angry letters from dealers, so they tend to take priority. Our standard procedure is to call the offending party for comment. In this case I was dealing with Yamaha through a PR agency. I e-mailed Jack’s letter to the agent, and he promptly replied that he’d call me the next day. And so he did.

He told me that he’d learned that Jack apparently had had a beef with Yamaha for years. In other words, the dispute was personal. From the agent’s tone of voice, I sensed he was halfway expecting me to throw the letter out.

But I had spoken with Jack, and he had said specifically that his complaint was not personal. None of his other PWC suppliers, he had said, required so much of him to earn co-op dollars. And even if therumors were true — that the other suppliers are swamped with noncurrent units, and thus have a stronger incentive to encourage dealers to advertise — it was still possible for a co-op requirement to be unreasonable.

Jack thought this was such a case, and he had banded together with other Yamaha dealers in his area to protest the requirement. They agreed not to order enough units to obtain co-op dollars.

I was surprised to hear that the agent was well aware of this coalition. After he realized I knew about it, his tone changed. Feeling a little uncomfortable and wishing to make things easier for him, I suggested that because Jack backed up his argument with facts, Yamaha could counter with its own information: ideally, the percentage of its 700 PWC dealers who had earned co-op funds. Yamaha eventually declined to comment.

My point in relating all this isn’t to beat up on Yamaha. Indeed, I like the agent. Because of him I had a pleasant conversation with Yamaha Watercraft Group’s national marketing manager. It was that conversation and the resultant article (see “InBox” for details) that had elicited Jack to contact us. I wrote the online piece without talking to a single dealer. That was a mistake, and I’m glad Jack called me on it.

I don’t know if Jack is being reasonable when he says the Yamaha Watercraft Group is out of touch with its dealers. (I’d need far more information to make such a general claim.) What I am sure about is that Jack’s own opinion is worthy of discussion. Not to mention the coalition of which he was a part.

I do sympathize more with dealers than with manufacturers because I work for Dealernews, the “voice of powersports retailers.” The OEMs have their own groups like the Motorcycle Industry Council. Dealers have state associations and trade magazines. (The MIC’s efforts often benefit dealers greatly, but you know what I mean.)

And yet I also hope Yamaha doesn’t hold a grudge. Jack himself says he will continue to try to be a good Yamaha watercraft dealer. Likewise, I will continue to report as best I can on an important division of an important company.

So let us know, anonymously or otherwise, if you ever have a complaint about a supplier, or if you think one is doing something unusually well. Companies are always telling me they’d rather communicate directly with their dealers. That’s their choice. But I don’t have to tell you how empowering a public voice can be for you, especially when you’re confronting a large company.

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2 Responses to “Let Dealernews Be Your Public Voice”

  1. Heeno Says:

    Motorcycles — Sold As Commodity Products
    Let’s face it motorcycles, scooters, ATVs and watercraft are sold as commodity products. Commodity products being defined as largely undifferentiated that offer little or no perceived differences between competitive offerings. As an example, log on to cycletrader.com and you’ll see ads from dealers selling vehicles for $100, $200, $300 less than any dealers advertised price. How does a dealer build a stronger brand if his brand is built on “pricecutting” or “discounts”… discount his prices even more?

  2. Andy Says:

    I think you can easily differentiate them, after all motorcycles are unique from one another. Anyway, you can still customize all those “commodity” products. But maybe the apparel you are wearing is what really makes the difference.

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