Powersports: The Lost Decade? Not Really

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This story originally appeared in the Dealernews February 2010 issue.

I have yet to see the final MIC numbers for 2009, but dealers likely retailed about 500,000 new motorcycles and scooters made by the major brands. This is roughly the same number they retailed in the late 1990s. For all you industry veterans, wouldn’t it be great if you could just downsize to your 1999 staffing and advertising levels, and call it good? The OEMs and aftermarket could do the same. With all the recent layoffs, maybe that’s what they’ve had in mind.

If only it were that easy. For one thing, technology and the Internet have changed how business is done. Today there are dealership duties that didn’t exist a decade ago. Even our favorite V-twin hippie, Rick Fairless, has computer people on staff. Turn to page 18 for some insight into how he’s built one of the smartest websites I’ve visited. It’s plain fun.

Technology doesn’t necessarily mean more overhead: It can save money in man-hours and advertising. Fairless, for example, explains how he’s stopped spending money on the Yellow Pages. Another columnist, Eric Anderson (page 28), talks this month about digital signage that acts as a silent salesperson on steroids.

This past decade’s second big change has been the influx of units made by companies not reporting to the MIC. On page 6, contributing editor Joe Delmont profiles a research company that tracks the growing number of dealerships that sell these units.

The research is part of a larger project tracking the number of dealerships, period. You may be surprised to learn that from 2008 through the first quarter of last year, 651 dealerships closed that once carried a major brand. But the number of franchise points for all brands stayed about the same due to the growth in the off-brand networks.

Again, those numbers don’t include the past nine months, during which the new ATV standard went live and scooter sales fell off a cliff with everything else. But I’ve recently spoken with or read about several dealers who are putting more brands under one roof through mergers, network consolidations or taking on newly opened points. Two owners of large stores told me they were happy to see this trend.

But well-run small stores will always have their place in the industry. Just one example is Ducati Indianapolis, profiled on page 22.

The decade’s biggest changes happened near its end: the disappearance of easy credit, the drop in sales, and a shift toward used bikes. We’ll be adapting for years, and despite my joking earlier, nobody’s bothering to look back at how things were done when the sales numbers were similar (a key difference: motorcycle registrations were much lower).

To borrow a hackneyed expression, it’s a different world. Now is the time to adapt to it by researching new vendors, reading the trade magazines and educating yourself and staff. Columnist Dave Koshollek makes this very case on page 20.

And then there is this month’s Dealer Expo (see our show preview starting on page 43). The show offers more free educational programs than ever before, including new DealernewsLive! networking seminars, a Randy Sobel sales seminar, a Shopatron e-commerce panel discussion and seminars hosted individually by Dealership University and F&I giant Zurich.

But I’m guessing you go to the show primarily for the same reason I do: to see new stuff. As we previewed in last month’s issue, there are lots of new products coming out. Read our Show Dailies handed out during the show for additional product coverage. Our April issue will also include a wrap-up.

If you still need a sound argument for traveling to the Dealer Expo, check out Mike Vaughan’s column on our last page.

Arlo Redwine
Senior Editor
aredwine@dealernews.com

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