Editor’s note: In a typical edition of Powersports Business, columnists Neil Pascale and Sam Dantzler are displayed on opposite pages, each tackling a different challenge dealerships face in today’s trying economy. Each brings his different, unique perspective to these pages, although it’s not uncommon for them to trek on similar paths to make their respective points.
Yet beneath these similar viewpoints brews a rising (albeit friendly) competition for the sought-after “left hand” spot of the PSB Solutions section. The left-hand column is high-profile territory. It’s the Ferrari of automobiles. The Louvre of art museums. And Dantzler, the PSB newcomer columnist, has aspirations to unseat the incumbent, Pascale. The PSB editors’ solution? A point-counterpart faceoff featuring the following subject: Should dealers focus their time on drawing more store traffic, or doing more with the traffic they have?
Pascale: First off, let’s be honest, shall we? Sam, you don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that left side. You need me on that left side. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of readership that I provide.
Having stated the obvious, let’s get to the subject at hand here: our retail partners’ focus, and where it should lie. And we can only answer that question by first asking ourselves a question: Is the volume of interest in what we sell large enough or growing fast enough that we should place “marketing” somewhere in the depths of our to-do lists next to “call your mother-in-law back?”
Clearly, we are in no such shape with the industry, which is still enjoyed only by a single-digit percentage of U.S. consumers.
Dantzler: And yet here in just the last Powersports Business issue, who’s on the left? One would think the former editor of the magazine would have a bit more pull. Two can play at that game, Pascale. I’m your Huckleberry.
Relative to the question posed, Neil would have you throw cash and payroll at many facets that drive business to your store. My first question is, “Have you earned the right?” Are you maximizing what’s going on inside the four walls to justify driving in more footfall?
Pascale: But Sam, there’s just not much traffic within those four walls today. How could there be? When the forever-infamous year of 2009 finally concluded, our industry had taken a huge black eye in terms of new unit sales. Sales shrunk by approximately 50 percent, and even more so in more categories. So how did we react? We shrank marketing budgets. Big time! And where did the remnants of that marketing budget go? To our already-established customer base. Dealers en masse decided they were going to spend money on events and promotions for their current customers. You spend money on us, we’ll spend money on you. That was our logic, and it wasn’t a bad one. At least for the short term.
But it’s almost five years later. Five years! Our customer base isn’t getting any younger. Their hairline is receding almost as fast as yours, Sam …
Dantzler: If I hear again about “how there’s not enough traffic as there used to be,” I may vomit. The national average for number of door swings to traffic logs is 6 percent. That means 6 percent of the people coming in the door ever are given a chance to buy a motorcycle. Yeah, that’s the answer … bring more people to the store. That way, 94 percent of them can be given the same, crappy experience and not asked to buy. Sounds like some Minnesota logic there, Neil.
Pascale: No, no, Sam. See, Minnesota logic works the opposite way. Minnesota logic dictates that you combine two bad elements to equal something good. Like population control. We in Minnesota combine frigid, toe-breaking temperatures with voraciously hungry mosquitoes to keep the weak-hearted and less courageous of us further south. Say in Colorado. Two bads equal one good. The weather just turned. Had our first frost last night. This isn’t good for those of us hoping for an extended fall. Plus, now those of us in the upper Midwest now are eyeing a larger heating bill even before the first snowfall. That’s two bads. What’s the good? Is there a better time than this week or next to host that last ride when the fall colors will be their absolute best? Plus, we should incentivize each and every one of our regular riders to bring somebody new with them. Give them a free T-shirt to bring their buddy. Capture that guy’s contact information and ensure he gets your winterization promotion. Enlarge your customer base!
Dantzler: Oh, there you go, Neil … BUY your way into more customers. Now you’re really showing your true colors. How well did that work for your Minnesota Vikings on a Monday night when the Giants… THE GIANTS … clobbered them? Just go buy another quarterback … forget that he was a reject from the Buccaneers … THE BUCCANEERS, Neil?! How about if we just take a fraction of the effort used to attract new customers and spend it on training your staff? Let’s face it, most staff get told to, “Shadow Mike over there for a few days … then you’ll be ready to go.” Wow, what incredible training. And how many dealers can say they mandate follow-up calls? On ALL customers, not just the ones salespeople think are hot prospects? In an industry where only 3 percent of the population participates, wouldn’t it be better to put a fence around our existing herd than to try to expand the fractured gang?
Pascale: What’s with fences and you Colorado folk? Why do you feel the need to dig a hole in the ground, stick a piece of wood in it, and attach your common sense to it? Why restrict? Why limit what we can become? Yes, we need dealership training. But we also need to understand a fundamental truth: You can only go back to the well so many times before it dries up. We’re drying up! Our consumer base is aging. The AARP is standing at our dealership doors, almost slobbering with anticipation of increasing their numbers. When asked what he perceives to be an industry threat, Suzuki vice president Larry Vandiver recently cited the lack of riders between college age and age 35. As an industry, we’re seeing this age group disappear from our radar. That’s not good. In fact, that’s downright scary.
Dantzler: The aging demographic is because we’re not backfilling the funnel with the typical younger generation (read: dirt bikes). They get so enamored with iPads and video games that somehow the fun and coolness of motorcycles gets lost on them. That said, our industry sales aren’t where they are because of 16-year-old Johnny and his fohawk not buying a $6K bike. The lack of sales are because we, the buying public (especially the college-to-35 bracket), expect more from our experiences these days. When we walk into a store, we want more than the product and the price tag (think Nordstrom). We’re looking for engagement and something fun, not product knowledge and inventory. Most people get into powersports to ESCAPE the doldrums of life. They want to be part of a group of people who do something different. They hang out in the dealership to be part of something, not just to buy something. That’s a fact that online stores cannot debate, nor replicate. And IF (big if) we did an exceptional job of creating that experience in our stores, I’d say, flood the doors with people Neil! But we don’t. As an industry we suck at experience creation. So what’s left in the absence of an experience? Price. Flooding the doors with people buying solely on price make dealerships no more than Walmarts with cooler toys. And I’m just spit-balling here, but I’ll bet that’s NOT why most of the dealers out there got into the industry.
Pascale: Agreed. But neither did our retail partners get into the industry because they recognized a huge void in marketing prowess either. Of course, that’s why those wise Powersports Business editors nearly always place my marketing column on the left-hand side and your sales column on the right-hand side, aka your Baltic Avenue to my Boardwalk.
Let’s face it, Sam. You don’t want the truth. You can’t face the truth. You want me on that left side. You need me on that left side.
Dantzler: You and your damn left side?!?! The mere fact that I don’t care which side my article appears is exactly why it DID appear on the left side this past issue. So go ahead and hide behind your false premise and movie quotes. And if you’re going to quote Nathan Jessup, you can’t roll around in a damn Fiat.
Neil Pascale is the business development manager for Dominion Powersports Solutions, a dealer service company that includes PowerSports Network, Cycle Trader, Traffic Log Pro, Ziios and Dominion Insights. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sam Dantzler is the founder of Sam’s Powersports Garage, a membership website dedicated to best practices and all-staff training. He can be reached at email@example.com.