By Matt Bolch
High gas prices in 2008 spurred an explosion of scooter sales, but the double whammy of lower fuel prices and a horrendous economy hit the sector last year.
Sales of both scooters and accessory items were down, although anecdotal evidence suggests declines weren’t as severe as those in the overall industry.
“It was definitely a lot better in 2008 vs. ’09,” said David Corneille, owner of Blackbeard Powersports in Clinton Township, Mich. “With fuel prices dropping, there has been less interest in scooters, but it’s still fairly strong.”
Lack of financing options has hampered sales, says Corneille, whose dealership carries scooters from Hyosung, CF MOTO and SYM and will add Genuine scooters this season. At the time a scooter is sold, add-ons generally include a luggage carrier or a saddlebag, and a windshield and back rest for models that don’t have those items as standard offerings.
Blackbeard Powersports has 60 scooters on display, which Corneille says boosts repeat business as owners look to upgrade. It also services all Asian scooter makes, which brings in new clientele. The showroom features a 20-by-8 wall of scooter accessories, but Corneille notes that many accessory and performance items are special order.
“There’s going to be more of an aftermarket going forward as aftermarket companies pay more attention to scooters,” Corneille says. “Asian imports are here to stay.”
Sales of commodity items at Scooterworks Direct have been flat, while accessories and performance products have dipped, reports Sean Cummings, director of sales at the Chicago-based wholesaler. The company has more than 1,000 dealership customers, and more than half are full-line powersports dealers.
“From the beginning of (2009) through July, orders were strong,” Cummings said. “Now dealers are ordering parts on demand. Stocking levels are way down.”
It’s no surprise the market is shaking out, with some dealerships closing, along with what Cummings calls fly-by-night suppliers who jumped into the market when scooter sales were strong.
To bring more value to its dealer network, Scooterworks has started a no-cost drop ship program. Any participating dealership with an online shopping cart can link to Scooterworks. Sales are fulfilled by Scooterworks, but appear to be shipped from the dealer.
“We’ve gotten great feedback and believe it gives dealers a new revenue channel,” Cummings says. The wholesaler also is excited about the Soft Italia cases it will soon be carrying. He describes them as having top quality at an attractive price point.
Accessory sales are historically low at Swamp Cycles, Gainesville, Fla., which also is home to the University of Florida. Company owner Tom Glasser says being in a college town insulates his business somewhat in scooter sales, but does the accessory side no favors. “The sales just don’t seem to be there,” Glasser said of accessories. “Our core market is 18- to 21-year-olds, and they don’t care much about accessories. It’s probably much different in, say, Key West.”
Regardless, top sellers include locks, helmets, eyewear and gloves, the latter due to recent cold weather. Glasser says he equips new scooters with an array of accessories but lets buyers pick and choose.
Parts are the most profitable side of the business but one that’s often overlooked by dealers, says Joel Martin, president of Martin Racing Performance (MRP). “Most dealers pick up
20 brands of scooters and forget to properly accessorize, or worse, they buy from a supplier that will just as soon as go around them and sell direct to the public.”
“Scooters were flying out the door in 2008,” says Willie Hodgson, parts manager at Vespa of San Jose in California. “Then gas prices dropped and everybody jumped back into their SUVs.”
The dealer stocks scooters from Vespa, KYMCO, Genuine, Piaggio and Aprilia, in addition to motorcycles sold under the BMW of San Jose banner. Hodgson describes scooter accessory sales as 50-50 between those sold at the time of scooter purchase and those sold in the aftermarket.
Several of the display scooters are outfitted with every possible accessory to familiarize shoppers with the range of items available, as well as displays of popular items, such as CoolAss seat covers. “People who buy Beemer bikes already own several, but for most scooter buyers, it’s their first two-wheel purchase,” Hodgson said. “You need to show them what it can do and how it will look by accessorizing.”
Vespa of San Jose enjoys strong impulse sales of branded scooter trinkets, including key tags, wrapping paper and cards. “It sells well when you put it in someone’s face,” Hodgson said.
James Canning, vice president at Partsforscooters.com, notes that sales in 2009 were on par with the previous year but down from the 25-30 percent annual growth the company has experienced since its founding. The company has an active dealer base of 1,500 and its own distribution facility in China.
The high-performance sector has been a bright spot, with increased sales of high-performance CDIs, carburetors, exhausts, roller weights and similar items. “Regardless of whether people buy 50, 90, 150 or 250cc scooters, everyone wants to go a little faster,” Canning said.
Commodity sales also have been good, as owners opt to repair and maintain their scooters instead of trading in or trading up. And in areas such as the Midwest where there is a definite season, Canning notes that many owners are using the offseason to tweak and maintain their scooters so they will be ready to go come spring.
“Once the season hits, you don’t want to be working on your vehicle,” Canning said. “You want to be out riding.”