By Karin Gelschus
With new technology developments replacing products that in some cases are only six months old, it can be difficult to understand how some products even work, much less which ones are destined to be hot sellers.
So, which new technologies are being utilized by powersports manufacturers, and how does that affect existing products and their future in the marketplace?
Richard Kimes, Helmet House’s director of marketing, says it’s easy to get wrapped up in all the product details, so there’s one thing industry members should keep in mind.
“We want to look at technology as a foundation for a meaningful and useful benefit to a rider,” Kimes said. “If those technologies aren’t resulting in a better ride for the rider, it probably won’t last very long. We don’t look at bells and whistles for bells and whistles sake.”
With that idea in mind, there are two technologically advanced products that have excelled in sales for Helmet House during the past year. First Kimes says he’s seen an explosion in popularity of the modular helmet.
“That full-face helmet with the full, flip up chin bar as denoted by the Shoei Multi-Tech has been an absolute sales success beyond all projections,” he said. “They’re quiet enough and stylish enough; a traditional full-face buyer will consider it as a replacement or secondary helmet for commuting. We’re also seeing HJC getting ready to introduce its new modular or system helmets.”
Kimes notes as the helmet designs become more refined, they’re being seen as a replacement for a traditional full-face helmet.
In addition to helmets, Kimes says the company has seen a large amount of growth in electric gear. Like the helmets, the electrically heated liners Helmet House launched in 2007 have also been a sales success.
The electric line, Tour Master Synergy, is designed to be three- or four-season garments. It’s able to be multi-seasoned because it comes standard with an electronically controlled, three-position thermostat. Kimes says because the thermostat comes standard, the dealers are finding it’s easier to sell than its competitors.
“We haven’t been able to fulfill it fast enough,” Kimes said. “Synergy is lower priced than a lot of its competitors; [the dealerships] don’t have to stock as many accessory items, and the consumer gets a better, thought-out product, which they often have to spend an extra $50-$100 for an accessory to get.”
In addition to the thermostat, a key element the liners have is the carbon fiber heating elements, which make it more flexible and distributes heat through the jacket or pant liner. Kimes says the ability to adjust the temperature level and distribute heat evenly throughout the liner is a crucial element for longer rides.
“A touring rider can need equipment that can run 80 or 90 degrees in the desert,” he said, “down to 25 degrees in the mountains on the same tour.”
Whether it’s apparel, batteries, lights or something else, products are constantly going through refinements. That’s precisely what Doug Muellner, FMF national sales manager, says about the exhaust segment.
“During the past year as far as advancements,” he said, “it’s been more refinements of existing advancements – internal quart design, continued use of exotic materials.”
Muellner adds from FMF’s perspective the exhaust innovations have been experimentation in ergonomics. “In other words, to make [exhaust] more integrated as part of the machine, so it’s less intrusive; it keeps the weight centered.”
Muellner notes in addition to exhaust companies, even the OEMs have become more R&D oriented when it comes to developing exhaust. More specifically, however, Muellner says the biggest advance during the past two years has been the advent of four-stroke motorcycles, a by-product of that is an increased focus on sound.
“To develop performance and sounds at the same time and address the sound issue is quite complex,” he said. “We were one of the first to do that, and we continue to do that, and that’s why we have so much going on in the R&D side.”
The R&D side has been apparent these past couple years in the audio industry, which has seeped over into the powersports industry. Electronics like MP3 players, iPods and the electronic Bluetooth combined with the simpler AM/FM radios have put ASA Electronics in a good position with sales in the powersports industry.
ASA Electronics, parent company of Jensen Heavy Duty, came out with the JHD910 mini radio last year. It’s a radio designed to be mounted on certain powersports vehicles like ATVs or UTVs. Alaina Weimer, ASA Electronics public relations specialist, says the radio and its accessories are designed to handle the tough conditions powersports typically do, such as dirt or rain. What also makes the radio unique is its auxiliary import that is used for portable devices like an MP3 player or iPod.
“That’s so mainstream for people to have now,” Weimer said. “When you’re on an ATV you’re not going to be fooling around with a big booklet of CDs.”
ASA Electronics National Accounts Manager Chris Ganshorn says there really isn’t anything else like this in the powersports market.
“This is really new to them (Parts Unlimited, Jensen Heavy Duty distributor),” Ganshorn said. “It’s really taking off quickly for them, much more than they expected.”
Ganshorn says the Heavy Duty brand started out as an agricultural product, but the company was getting requests from people asking if they could install it on an ATV. “That brought it into focus that we needed to get it into the powersports industry,” he said.
One of the most rapidly growing products — as well as — confusing for dealers is software. MIC Systems & Software General Manger Neil Frame says during the past year dealers have began focusing on getting their dealerships
“Of course the main need is getting the parts department straightened out. Then service is their next need,” Frame said. “They all want a fully integrated system with accounting but expense is an issue. Because we have two products, Commander NE and Brainstorm, we can provide the solution each dealer needs and fits their budget.”
The new aspects of Commander NE are 64bit net parts and service system and an NE interface to QuickBooks. The other product, Brainstorm, added features to make it easier for dealers to access information they’ve collected in their every day business.
Frame says MIC Systems’ Partner Standards Protocol (PSP) feature is the one the company is most excited about. It’s managed by the Motorcycle Industry Council and has OEMs and aftermarket companies certified for use or working towards certification.
“We feel this is the single most significant dealer service to simplify, and verify the integrity of information flowing between dealers and their vendors,” Frame said. “All of the PSP features operate directly from our business system eliminating the need for multiple Web sites for communications. We are always updating both systems with new user features.”
Due to the number of new products that come out in a relatively short period of time, numerous products are being phased out of the powersports market.
“What you buy six months ago is going to be different from what you want now,” said Weiner of ASA Electronics. “Your old system is going to be too old six months down the road.”
Kimes says an example of manufacturers condensing gear is waterproof clothing, so riders don’t have to carry as much equipment on a tour.
“With the technologies available and waterproofing, with water-resistant membranes, we’re making gear that will get riders through 85-90 percent of conditions,” Kimes said. “We hear all the time from riders, ‘I want the one jacket that I can take on tour with me because I don’t want to have to carry two.’ You didn’t see that 10 years ago.” He adds as waterproof technology comes more into play, gear like rain boot covers are really only for the worst conditions and won’t be taken on every tour.
From a software aspect, Frame says the most frequent call MIC Systems & Software gets is a dealer’s new PC doesn’t have a LPT port for their printers.
“Because a lot of dealers still use impact printers, we have to help them through adding a card in the computer to handle that or help them move to laser printers to replace the impact printer,” Frame said. “We have found in our new installs that the dealer is virtually Laser driven, and we are seeing a lot of Vista machines showing up. I think it should be clear that all ‘advancements’ are not necessarily beneficial to the dealer. It’s important for us to explain to our dealers the benefit or detriment of the new technology.”
KEEPING IT STRAIGHT
For the reason that some products are phased out rather quickly because of newer, more advanced technology, it makes it difficult for both manufacturers and dealerships to keep all the products straight.
Muellner says the single biggest challenge is keeping dealers from getting overwhelmed, and the dealerships that are staying ahead in the race are the most willing to learn updated electronics.
“It has to be a two-way street,” Muellner said. “A dealership has to want to know more to be a better source for its customers. While we’re not expecting them to become FMF experts, the dealerships that are paying attention, at least having a fundamental understanding, are having success.”
To help dealerships achieve a better understand of new products, Muellner says FMF is aggressive with supporting distribution events that are educating dealers on new developments.
Kimes of Helmet House says as the economy is less desirable, dealers are less willing to experiment and take chances on unproven, new products.
“They’re looking at their core products that will drive traffic into their store,” he said. “We try to align ourselves with that type of thinking no matter the store. We let the marketplace help find the products that we recommend for dealers to use.”
Frame says dealers seem to resist the new technology because of fear or budget.
“There are always exceptions to that, and those are the dealers who call us in a panic when something doesn’t work,” he said. “Fortunately we have a strong support staff that can get the dealer through things fairly quickly.”
It can be just as difficult for manufacturers to keep up with the growing demand of more technologically advanced products. Muellner says FMF evaluates its products, its competitors’ products and even products outside of the powersports industry to have the most advanced exhaust.
“A number of our R&D staff are constantly on the look out for things that might work in our area,” Muellner noted. “FMF is producing and supplying as quickly as we make these discoveries.”