Check your perceptions

Perception is reality.

It’s simple, and it’s fundamentally true — on a case-by-case basis. If you’re my customer, and if you believe that my products are great, then for all intents and purposes, they are. And if you think they’re terrible, then they are. If your customer thinks you provide great service, then you do. It’s true for lots of things, whether those things are actually true or not.

But perceptions are not often based on facts, and facts often change.

I was in the bicycle business for a long time, and I saw that business change tremendously in a relatively short period of time. One major change was the perception of quality from different countries of origin. At one point, if a bicycle wasn’t made in the U.S.A., it was perceived to be crap. Then Japan was OK, too, but everything else was crap. No one dared import a bike from China, because they were crap (and honestly, at the time, they were). Then Taiwan became OK, but it used to be crap. Then Taiwan became great, and no one imported bikes from Japan anymore. Then China even became OK, and now China is the biggest exporter to the U.S. by a mile. The facts changed faster than the perceptions, and in each shift, the country of origin was doing good work years before many people perceived them as respectable sources.

There are three things I want you to check your perceptions of, get updated facts and see if your perception is still correct.

The bicycle industry’s shift from various countries is somewhat similar to powersports. A long time ago, everything was made in the U.S.A. by American companies. Then the Japanese companies became great competitors. I get a sense now that many people in our industry think that China is not a viable supplier for powersports vehicles, but the facts are changing and will certainly change more. It’s no longer accurate to generalize and say, “Its made in China, so its crap.” I’m not asking you to give all your confidence and trust in vehicles that are made in China, but to evaluate it properly.

I have no Chinese customers, no hidden agenda and no upside for me in asking you to consider this. But I think it’s important for you to be aware of your competition and how your customers will shop, and they’ll consider Chinese made products because of the low cost, and they’re not all terrible. There are a handful I’ve seen recently that are actually pretty impressive.

There is also a perception that OEM accessories are better than aftermarket accessories. Different? Yes. Better? Not always, but frequently. It used to be a fundamental truth, but it’s not anymore. Most of the shoddy aftermarket companies went out of business in the recession, and the majority of the companies left (like mine) make decent stuff. That’s why we survived. It was a thinning of the herd. Also, many of the aftermarket companies are also the OEM’s supplier behind the scenes. That’s certainly true of my company. In my perception, the facts no longer support the perception that aftermarket stuff isn’t as good as OEM stuff. Check the facts for yourself, and update your perception.

There is also a common perception in the powersports industry that our competitors are only in our distribution channel. This clearly isn’t true anymore — I previously wrote a whole blog about it. Deere is a ‘tractor’ company, in the farm and agriculture channel, but they’re clearly coming after your UTV business in a big way. There are other competitors coming from other channels, too.

Steve Shankin is founder/president/CEO (Chief Executive Optimist) of Seizmik and its parent company, Vialink. As a result of his big brain (read: luck), he got into the UTV accessory business in 2002, well before it was what all the cool kids were doing. His companies have designed whole vehicles and extensively studied how consumers use UTVs. He still calls them “UTVs” and not “side-by-sides.” He’s a father of three girls, competitive cyclist and not a very good cook but he keeps on tryin’ anyway.



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