One trip to the world’s largest motorcycle trade show — EICMA in Milan, Italy — was all it took for Larry Little to get the idea that the American powersports marketplace could support the same type of show.
So after getting a call from Marketplace Events Motorcycle Group president Mike Webster in 2010 to begin researching the prospects for hosting a similar version of EICMA in the U.S., Little found plenty of reason to believe that the motorcycle industry was ripe for such a show. Little, the longtime publisher of Cycle World and chairman of the Motorcycle Industry Council, officially hopped on board as the Motorcycle Group’s second hire. Now vice president and general manager.
What is the biggest opportunity for the industry, and how can the industry take advantage of it?
The biggest long-term opportunity I see is creating greater demand for two wheels as transportation. I started on this soapbox a number of years ago and found that either business was so good (2006), or business was so bad (2008-forward) that getting attention for resources to organize an effort was difficult. But I believe the timing now is the best it’s ever been for an initiative of this sort.
- Cradle to grave, the resources needed to manufacture and dispose of a motorcycle is dramatically less than an automobile;
- Wear and tear on roadways with two (narrow) tires is dramatically less than four;
- Traffic congestion is reduced;
- Overall fuel efficiency is increased;
- And most importantly, there is a great emotional benefit associated with riding a motorcycle compared to an automobile.
It is a tremendous industry opportunity that will require a long-term strategic approach. We’ve done this before with the MIC’s Discover Today’s Motorcycling program, launched in the early 1990s to address the systemic negativity that was associated with motorcycling. We recognized that to increase sales, we had to overcome a serious perception problem, and we did. In 10 years we took mainstream media’s stories on motorcycling from 75 percent negative (a number more negative than the tobacco industry) to 85 percent positive, while also dramatically increasing the number of stories! It’s hard to remember how negative it was because motorcycling is now woven into the fabric of American culture.
A similar long-term initiative needs to be organized to showcase the transportation opportunity. I can report that two wheels as transportation is an element of the Motorcycle Industry Council’s strategic plan, and recently, the Aftermarket Committee identified it as a project to begin planning for in 2015. An initiative of this magnitude takes time and consideration to be effective, but I am very happy that the process has begun.
What has been the biggest challenge in your current position, and how have you dealt with it?
That’s a great question, and for me, one with no easily identifiable single answer. I suppose that’s because when you’ve been in launch and strong growth mode for the past three-and-a-half years, there are a lot of things that are big challenges. On a strict empirical level, the biggest challenge we’ve assigned ourselves at the Motorcycle Group this year is to dramatically increase dealer/retailer trade attendance. We had good growth from 2013 to 2014, but fell short of our goals, so you’ll note a greater focus in all things related to 2015 dealer attendee registration (go to www.AIMExpoUSA.com right now to register).
We’re fortunate that a number of our exhibitor partners are already reaching out to their dealer databases asking them to visit their booths at AIMExpo and asking if they’d like more information or help in registering to attend, and we’re supporting them in their efforts. They recognize that we’re all in this together, and we’ll all have a much stronger industry with a robust dealer turnout in Orlando in October. We know dealers will be energized about the new products they’ll see and be smarter and more profitable business men and women from the education they gain at the Powersports Business Institute @ AIMExpo. We’ve recently unveiled Phase One of our Exhibitor Marketing Toolkit with a number of tools to help exhibitors leverage their exhibiting investment, some of which include social media tips, PR templates, web banners, show specials ideas and a host of other tools to showcase their involvement at AIMExpo to dealers and consumers. The Toolkit can be found on the website under the Exhibitors tab, and any of our staff is happy to help exhibitors take advantage of it.
The other key component to boosting dealer attendance is OEM attendance and incentives for dealers to attend. The number of OEMs is increasing this year, including BMW, which will be conducting their annual dealer business meeting at AIMExpo, and it looks like other OEMs will be also be inviting dealers to attend to share new product unveilings. So those are a few of the things we’re doing to create some gravitational pull to Orlando in October for dealers.
What is the best advice that you can give others in the industry?
Interesting question, which could go any number of directions. Having just launched a new business over the past few years, we have some intrinsic values that were key to how we approached coming to market. The first thing is the notion of value and value proposition. When [Motorcycle Group president Mike Webster] initially asked me to do research for the concept of a new trade and consumer show, my first thought was: Will it add value to the market, or better stated, can we do it in such a way to ensure it adds value to the market? If I thought the answer to that was no, I wouldn’t be here today. But, we believed that creating a platform that would be in one place at one time, and in the right place at the right time, could and would add value to the market through greater business efficiencies. And over the course of the first two shows, based on feedback, we’ve done so, and there is tremendous potential to do so much more.
The second is the commonly bandied-about phrase of “being authentic,” knowing who you are and are not — both as a person and as a company or brand. We’re bike guys and gals in our core team, and we know that benefits the Motorcycle Group because we’re believable. We also know what we are not. I knew that when I first signed on, I wasn’t a “show guy,” and I had a lot to learn. I didn’t try to make anyone believe I was — and I’m fortunate to be surrounded by experienced show professionals. Between osmosis and observation, I’m starting to get the experience that will enable me to, well, at least sound like one! Bottom line, be yourself!
You’ve seen how European shows like Intermot and EICMA do the same type of show as AIMExpo with great success. When did you first think the U.S. market could support an event such as AIMExpo?
I was publisher at Cycle World in the early 1990s when I went to EICMA, and when I returned, I thought “How are we going to do this in America, because we need it?” I wasn’t back one day when I called Mike and said, “Let’s have lunch,” and then I asked how were we going to do this type of show here. At the time, in the early 1990s, it wasn’t the right time. The biggest component that wouldn’t work at the time was getting the OEMs to disengage from a strategy of individual dealer meetings to introduce their new products, to going to one place at one time, which is a lot more efficient from a business perspective, but it didn’t fulfill any of their needs of being able to sequester their dealer body for three to four days and wine and dine them. So the idea was tabled then in respect of that reality. So the thought has always been there, from the early 1990s, that America needs the kind of platform that AIMExpo offers. In Europe, it’s a much easier proposition because the individual markets are so much smaller. So instead of those individual dealer meetings, they use EICMA and Intermot to meet with their dealers.
What can you say to dealers who haven’t attended yet, and think of AIMExpo as “just a repeat of shows past?”
AIMExpo at its core offers so much more business efficiency. It gets everybody in one place at one time to do business. And the big differentiator was not only that the February time frame was not the right time frame anymore, but there were really no OEMs to speak of [there]. Now, with the OEMs in attendance, it’s a whole different show floor and a whole different reason for dealers to attend.
And what about the aftermarket companies? What were they looking for in AIMExpo that they weren’t getting previously in the industry?
During that discovery process of interviewing OEMs and key aftermarket people, combined with the dealer research Mike had done, it was very clear that the industry did not want just a “Me, too” replacement show. They wanted something that was better timed, that reflected the timing that could allow an aftermarket manufacturer to have some control over finding out what’s going to work and what’s not for the next year. You can’t do it any earlier than October from an OEM perspective, which is really what drives a lot of the media attendance with the new model reveals. The market was still reeling and staggering in 2010-11 as I was doing the research for AIMExpo, not yet in the recovery side of the global financial crisis. So we knew if we could create something that was energizing and exciting, and effective from a business standpoint, then the market could have one place to come together.
EICMA was the model we emulated from a press perspective, where the media was just as important as the dealer or consumer. In doing that, we learned a lot of things. The U.S. is a separate market, but it didn’t have a platform to do industry business across the board. We believed that if we could energize the market by bringing everybody from the industry perspective — exhibitors, dealers — together in one place and layer on consumers and get them excited because that would be the first time in the U.S. they could see all this new product, we could create some energy and excitement.
As I told people all along, one of the things that drove me crazy at Cycle World — as an industry guy in the U.S. — was that the No. 1 web traffic stories all year long were introductions from EICMA. Those numbers would continue to roll on through the year, and those stories would stay at the top. It was obvious that when you can create a platform to create excitement for the media, the consumers will respond. We didn’t have anything like that in the U.S., and that used to drive me crazy because we’re the biggest market in the world in most cases from a recreational perspective. In some respects, if we didn’t do it, somebody else probably would have. We’re the right people do it, and AIMExpo exists for all the right reasons — to bring the industry together, to do significant B2B commerce, as well as the opportunity to do business-to-consumer as well, but more than anything, to energize and excite. We’ve been successful in doing that the first couple of years. Have we got a ways to go? Absolutely. There’s a lot of growing yet to happen. But I believe the foundation that we’ve established over the first two years, and looking at the growth especially on the OEM side for this year, we’re going to have increased consumer turnout for sure, and our almost singular focus this year is increasing dealer turnout. We’ve got to get more dealers to turn out simply to make it be the happening that it has to be.
What can you tell dealers that would be an enticement to get them to consider attending AIMExpo if they haven’t yet? We’ve seen at the Powersports Business Institute @AIMExpo that after they come once, they’re in.
That’s right. If dealers could take a look at the investment that it takes to go down there — what [are they] going to have to incrementally sell next year to justify it, if they invest $2,000 for a plane ticket and hotel and meals to go to AIMExpo for two days and get all the education. What’s the normal dealer margin on aftermarket products? So they have to sell $6,500 more stuff at retail to justify that $2,000 investment. It’s a lot of money, yes, but if you look at the big picture of what it can mean for their dealership, it’s not a gigantic expense considering the return they’re going to get. Marketplace Events talks about creating dynamic face-to-face environments, and that’s what AIMExpo is. It’s an opportunity to learn, network, see new products and see where my profits are coming from next year — what new products are out there that are going to contribute to my bottom line? That’s what we hope dealers will start to look at and think, “Gosh, I’m missing out by not being there.”