Dec. 22, 2008 – A current-day industry reality: There is no easy place to ride

My recent columns and some follow-up on speaking opportunities brought on consistent comments that what I am suggesting dealers do in the current and short-term market place is really hard to implement.
Editor Neil has promised that when I or anyone else comes up with an easy way, it will be front page news in Powersports Business.
I have spent a lot of time riding dirt bikes, ATVs and snowmobiles with many motorcycle dealers. I have never known you to look for an easy place to ride. You go where the trail takes you, deal with it and enjoy what comes your way. I’m not making light of how tough it is out there, but you do need to come to work with the same attitude you have suiting up for a challenging trail ride or motocross event. Are the best rides ever easy?
Next month, for the Jan. 21 issue, I have written a piece entitled “Pursuing the untapped motorcycle market.” I would like to offer here somewhat of a preamble to that column to perhaps create the mindset that is needed to cash in on a whole lot of business we as an industry have failed to tap. What we need to do is not different than what many, make that nearly every, industry has had to do in its evolution.
When oil was discovered in the 19th century in Pennsylvania, it was literally scooped up in buckets. Times have changed and the oil industry has done a pretty good job of digging deeper and in more places, and managing to be the most profitable industry in the world, even in troubled times. That comparison is really not that farfetched.
You do have an option in any market with any brand to live on the surface business. The lure of what we sell will always cause some business to percolate up. If you are going to take the “bucket approach,” you do need to scale back, reduce expenses, get all the parts, accessory and motorclothes business you can, and make the most out of your service department, while you scoop up what comes your way. There are enough motorcycles and ATVs in the marketplace for you to make a living at and survive the current situation. That, of course, is assuming you did not run out and build a big box. In that case you do not have the “survival” option.
I have always stressed the money is in the metal. A motorcycle dealer has to first and foremost be a retailer of motorcycles. The really good news is that in spite of all the turmoil in the stock market and banking community, in spite of all the plant closings and home foreclosures, there are not less people in the United States that want what you sell.
In our Harley-Davidson dealership in Southampton we entered November with two more salesmen than the previous November. Floor traffic was way down, things were clearly tougher than last year. So Partner Aaron, truly never one to look for an easy place to ride, hired three more salesmen. It clearly wasn’t time for less sales effort. We became well acquainted with every customer we had logged in the last 18 months, and continually invited them in to see new product, like the Harley trike, and for promotions held throughout the month.
It was a tough ride, but 5,300 phone calls netted an incremental increase of 11 sales, mostly profitable Big Twins, and made the dealership the highest volume Harley dealer in the district. The market potential of Aaron’s store is ranked No. 17 in market size out of 18 dealerships.
Do the math, 500 phone calls to make one sale? Takes all week and that is a lot of digging. The other option is enter the survival mode and not make the sales. Problem is, the survival mentality becomes a cancer that is very hard to shake. Aaron has stirred things up and has his people fired up in the slowest month of the year. Things will be better in December and he will be set up to roar into the new season. Partners Natascha and Staci in Lebanon, N.H., did basically the same and experienced a 400 percent increase, over admittedly poor performance by the previous owner who always hibernated in the winter.
I am reluctant to use personal success to make a point, as it always comes off as braggadocio and self aggrandizing. I talk about our stores only to stress that there are real options and that you can’t wait for the OEM to solve your problem. They don’t really have a clue, and frankly your success is not their priority. If they did come up with a solution it would bounce around 48 cubicles, three outer offices and land in the legal department for three months before it filtered down to you.
There is not an easy place to ride, but that makes it better for those who can handle the terrain that is thrown at you today. And, as the Motor Company likes to say these days, “screw it, lets ride.” You really can make a lot of people happy, who really want what you sell and will buy with attention and a higher level of encouragement.
We do have some solutions and ongoing support for dealers needing help getting the Next Level controls in place. Just e-mail Daughter Laura at
See ya in Indy.
Cheers, Ed. psb
Ed Lemco has been involved with the powersports industry for more than 30 years. Lemco, the former owner of Lemco Management Group, is the founder and executive director of the National Council of Motorcycle Dealer Associations. Lemco currently operates a call center for dealers in St Croix.

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