By Neil Pascale
LAS VEGAS — Google, Apple, Trader Joe’s. All three brands, including the national grocery store chain, have one thing in common: They all either started or had their breakout year during a recession.
That improbable fact was one of several points made to an overflowing room of dealers during “Riding out the downturn,” a seminar given at the American Suzuki Motor Corp. national dealer meeting by brand and marketing strategy expert Paul Leinberger.
Leinberger provided a number of reasons why powersports dealers ought to look at the nation’s current economic difficulties as not just a challenge but an opportunity. He cited a 2008 Harvard Business School study that concluded companies that increase advertising during recessions can improve market share and return on investment at lower costs than during good economic times.
“And the big kicker, when you come out of a recession, you don’t lose the market share,” said Leinberger, whose firm TDi Consulting has worked for a number of motorcycle and car manufacturers, including BMW, Harley-Davidson, Toyota, Ford and General Motors.
Leinberger, whose clientele goes beyond the motor industries, mentioned one client in the general retail world that has performed better in recessions than at any other economic time because the staff tends to work harder.
“The best way to get through a recession, and this is tried and true, is to do everything you can to drive more traffic on the sales floor,” he said, noting the best way to produce this increased interaction with customers is through the Internet.
“None of you are in the motorcycle business,” Leinberger told the room full of dealers. “You are all in the digital strategy business. You are all in the digital technology business. You are all in the Internet business.
“The most important thing you have at your dealership today is your Web site,” he said. “Nothing else is as important, not your parts department, not your new sales department. It’s what you do on the Internet. Not just because of the way it is today, but because what it’s going to be like tomorrow and because of all of those people out there who you want to sell bikes to who you haven’t sold bikes to before.”
Taking further advantage of the Internet is part of the recipe for success in a down market that Leinberger outlined. “The riskiest thing you can do is not to innovate,” he said, noting that studies have found a clear link between companies that innovate and their resulting stock market performance.
For dealers, innovation obviously isn’t just the product on their showroom floor but about the way they do business, from their retail merchandising to how they use the Internet to set up consumer appointments or announcing new user groups.
“It’s the only differentiator, in reality, that can change the way people see you in the marketplace,” Leinberger said of innovation.
And because consumers increasingly “see” the dealership online first, that venue must be looked at and changed constantly. “If your Web site is not changing the content daily, you have a Web site that’s dead,” Leinberger said, noting the expectations today’s consumers have about Web sites. “Our expectations about how to use the Internet have got stronger and stronger and more and more demanding.
“Think about your Web site as being the most important thing you got because that’s the way you sell to the younger generation and that’s increasing the way you sell to you.”
Copyright 2008 Powersports Business