Victory Vice President Mark Blackwell helped lead Polaris Industries’ motorcycle line last year into a new segment with its first-ever luxury touring product, the Vision. Overall, the American bike brand appears to holding its own in terms of overall sales and market share. Entering its 10th anniversary, Victory comes off a year in which its sales grew by less than 1 percent, a noteworthy mark since the industry’s on-road retail sales were down by nearly 5 percent in 2007.
What’s the biggest challenge for the industry and what should be done about it?
I believe in the short term, it is the current macro-economic challenges we are facing here in the U.S., with some trickle effect moving through the rest of the major world economies. The credit crunch and fallout from the burst in the U.S. housing bubble is definitely impacting some (but not all) powersports consumers here. Certain regions in the U.S., like the Southeast and Southwest, are being hit particularly hard. And while the U.S. is doing well with exports, we can start to see some impacts of the credit mess in major export markets, which is likely to ultimately impact consumption of powersports products there.
One concern I have is the collective pull-back from many of the leading manufacturers in their marketing efforts. I have seen this movie a couple of times before, and when everyone pulls back, it exacerbates the downturn. I realize everyone has to manage their individual businesses for their stakeholders, but as industry leaders, some of us have to think about what we might do collectively to help the industry. This might be a good time for another round of collective industry thinking and response, as was done in the mid-to-late ’80s. Then, with the leadership of folks like Don Emde and Bob Moffitt, Discover Today’s Motorcycling was born and thanks to Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki who funded it, I believe with all my heart, that was one important catalyst to the 15 years of growth the industry has enjoyed. I think Tim Buche and his team at Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) are continuing to do a marvelous job with their industry marketing efforts. But maybe we need to do more?
Longer term, there will be demographic and lifestyle changes that could ultimately and negatively impact the industry. How we individually respond to those changes will, to a large extent, shape the competitive landscape and who wins and loses. But here again, some collective industry efforts could help, and I think some of the things MIC is doing today (as presented at the recent annual meeting) will have very positive long-term benefits.
What has been the biggest challenge in your current position, and how have you dealt with it?
Building a new brand and distribution channel in the face of giants like Harley-Davidson, Honda and the other leaders has been even harder than I imagined when I joined Victory and Polaris. Getting the product right has been relatively easy compared to those challenges. In some ways the timing of when Polaris chose to enter the heavyweight cruiser market was genius (Hall Wendel and folks like original General Manager Matt Parks get credit for that). But in other ways, it made it even more challenging because a number of other brands (Excelsior-Henderson, Indian, etc.) entered around the same time and failed, and that created a certain amount of confusion and confidence issues in the market about who we were and whether we would be next to fail. But the commitment and support that I had from Tom Tiller and the Polaris board and management team made it possible to soldier on, and today, we are well past that situation. I believe most people know Victory is for real. The Victory Team is the best I have ever seen, and I have seen and worked with some pretty darn great teams. And the Victory dealers that believed in Victory from the beginning and hung in there through good times and bad are perhaps the ones that deserve the most thanks. This summer, we will begin to celebrate Victory’s 10th anniversary, and that will be a great time to say “thank you” to all those folks.
What’s the best advice you can give others in the industry?
I don’t think I am in a position to give others in the industry advice. We still have a lot of work left to do at Victory and in our international business at Polaris. But what I can do is tell you that we will continue to focus on the things that have made Polaris successful for most of our 54 years. Our recipe for success has been and continues to be attracting, retaining and developing great people, delivering innovative products focused on the customer, and being driven by results.