How to take advantage of the industry’s only salvation – April 3, 2006

At the Lemco Management Update and at the Indy show, I was most pleased by the number of dealers who talked to me and expressed support for the National Council of Motorcycle Dealer Associations’ efforts to support state dealer associations and for our efforts to ensure the established process of selling all product through authorized full-service dealers was maintained.
Nearly everyone talking to me asked, “What can I do?”
First, determine if your state has a dealer association. If you are not sure, please call Karen Rassmusen (340/719-8591), the national council’s executive secretary. She has an active list of contact information and can refer you to a state contact.
If you are not a member, join. It does not matter what you think of the people in the association; it is not a social club. If you do not like the way it is being run, become active and change it. The two major problems we have are apathy and ignorance. Too many dealers, whose very livelihood and that of their family and staff are totally dependent on what their state association can accomplish for them, just don’t know and don’t care.
Over the years I have extolled dealers and others in the industry to do a number of things. I have never felt a greater urgency or need at anytime in my 35 years in the industry than what we have to do today. The Chinese are in the motorcycle business in a big way. They will be a force to deal with, whether you like it or not. The distribution of product has to be regulated and sold in a responsible and orderly way. Most of what I saw at Indy was almost as good as what we are selling today and it will get better. An old friend of mine, Emil Gomez (EMGO Products), and I spent quite a bit of time examining product displayed at the Chinese Pavilion. There is no question that many of the companies there were totally disregarding nearly all of the established protocols our industry operates under.
Questions about EPA and DOT compliance were met with blank stares. No inquiries about service facilities or how you would train customers in the appropriate and safe use of the product. There is a clear and pervasive disregard for state and federal laws and little or no interest in operating within the dealer structure that has served the industry and the public so well in this country.
On the federal level, the economic and political realities will likely prove insurmountable for a relatively insignificant industry like ours. There are so many very large American industries desiring entry into the China market. Our government will publicly complain about trade imbalance, but really do nothing in the face of very powerful resistance. I have no idea what a Boeing 747 sells for these days, but I would wager that the amount is more than several hundred container loads of Boss Monkeys, or whatever other absurd name is placed on Chinese scooters, ATVs and dirt bikes.
Yes, there will be hearings and the federal agencies will make noise. In the end, there is no chance the senators from the state of Washington are going to do anything that would risk causing the Chinese to buy Airbus rather than Boeing. Repeat the same scenario in hundreds of industries and you will get the idea of the lack of sympathy our little industry will receive from Congress.
The answer, and only salvation, for our industry lies in action at the state level. We have a strong story to tell, and we have to tell it. Every state association needs professional management and a working relationship with a seasoned lobbyist. It takes money, but not as much as you might think. Government at the state level is much more receptive to public input. State representatives are very responsive to what local business people tell them, particularly if the message is not totally self serving and clearly in the public interest.
What you can do, and need to do, is make a politically active state association a reality in your state. Please don’t tell me what is fair; that’s a four letter word that starts with “F.” There will be dealers in your state who will not participate and draw the full benefit. So, yes it is not fair, just do not allow the parasites to influence your decision.
What you also can do is respond to your state association manager or lobbyist when asked to contact your local representative. Do it and tell your story in a straightforward and genuine way. You live in your town, you sell product to your neighbors, you are part of the community, you are a powerful force and can make a difference. Such a level of influence at the grass roots level is beyond the comprehension of the Chinese. We can be part of teaching a lesson in what is truly America’s greatest export — freedom.
You can talk to every supplier you have and ask them to support your state dealer association. Most of them will if asked. The dealer associations at the state level are working for the entire industry, and I think in a very fundamental way for the entire country. We care about the people who use our products. We accept the awesome responsibility of preparing the product and the end user to appropriately and safely use the product. What you can do is help make it the law of the land.
I did find one line of Chinese product entering the market in the right way. Schwinn, (yes, that Schwinn) long-time manufacturer of bicycles, now has scooters manufactured under its label in China. They sell through dealers, require a service and parts department, fully back the product and do it right. They deserve consideration by dealers desiring a low-price scooter to sell.
If I missed a company who is doing it like Schwinn, whatever the nationality, please let me know and I will recognize them in the next column.
Cheers, Ed
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the publisher.

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