by Steve Bauer
Jan. 2 is a date Mystic Powersports owner Steve Peterson and his staff refers to as“D Day,” the start of a three-month period where customer foot traffic “really begins to take
Peterson isn’t alone in his troubles. With recent down snow years, a struggling economy and consumers wary about their discretionary spending, dealers across the country are feeling the pinch by the winter sales blues. Powersports manufacturers, however, are stepping in to help aid dealers by creating innovative winter promotion programs and releasing product later in the season, with the ultimate goal aimed at drawing in a steady flow of customers.
Both Yamaha and Suzuki are experimenting with new ways to drive customer traffic to dealers this winter, with two approaches that although differ in style, have the potential to be equally effective in driving winter sales.
Slow winter months aren’t a new problem for dealers, especially those in northern climates, who have been trying for years to attract customers to their stores when most people have stowed away their motorcycles and ATVs until spring.
To get consumer minds back on riding, Yamaha introduced an initiative this September called “Hot Winter Nights.” The program gives dealers an opportunity to co-op with Yamaha to receive kit contents and promotional material for three nights of customized customer events: Hot Bikes, Cool Nights; Cool Ladies, Hot Bikes; and The Hottest Night of Winter.
Each promotion has its own unique theme. Hot Bikes, Cool Nights is aimed at promoting new bikes and accessories, along with a customization clinic. The Cool Ladies promotion focuses on riding fashion for women and a clinic on finding the right bike. Finally, The Hottest Night of Winter event consists of new bikes and new rider clinics.
“This program is a way for Yamaha to help dealers stage an event during the winter months that can potentially be a big draw,” said Bob Starr, head of corporate communications at Yamaha.
Dealers can co-op with Yamaha on such promotions as advertising, a live band or disc jockey, Yamaha/Star merchandise giveaways; food and rentals; and a free 18-month warranty on select 2008 and prior year Star motorcycles.
Peterson says he’s signed up for the program and has high hopes for its success.
“I think it’s a great idea, Yamaha is really making a concerted effort to ensure the events are a hit with customers,” he said. “The key to the whole thing is to get people to the dealership, show off the products and get them excited about riding. In the past, you could balance out your sales losses with snowmobile customers, but here in central Michigan we haven’t had any significant amounts for several years.”
Yamaha wouldn’t comment on how many dealers they’ve signed up for the program, but did say it garnered a lot of interest from dealers during and after its national dealer meeting.
“We’ve had great feedback from dealers about this initiative,” Starr said. “Yamaha’s focus is on customer satisfaction, and this will allow dealers to provide an event that perhaps customers have wanted, but that a dealer didn’t have the resources to do it themselves. I believe this program gives them the ability to maintain customer interest at high levels during the winter months, both by promoting Yamaha’s product and also by providing customer-specific events like the riding seminars.”
Byron Krentz, general manager of Cameron Motorsports in Montana, says although their snow sales have been strong, which has helped them weather recent winters, his dealership signed up for Yamaha’s promotion because it not only caters to enthusiasts, but also to women and first-time riders.
“If we can put together an event that can bring wives to the dealership with their
husbands, not to mention first-time buyers,
I think it’s a great promotion regardless of the season,” he said. “I think the key to success is
to make the environment as welcoming as
possible, and from what I’ve seen from Yamaha, they’ll work very hard with dealers to make sure the event is advertised properly and that it’ll bring people in even if it’s just to listen to
the music and win a prize.”
A second selling season
Another tactic that some OEMs are adopting is what could be called a second selling season, where a manufacturer releases new product during the winter months.
American Suzuki Motor Corp. is one OEM that’s experimenting with this concept, introducing more popular models later in the season to get foot traffic to dealerships.
“We’re using some lead models, like our Hayabusa, that are important to Suzuki and Suzuki dealers to advertise, drag people into the store and close some sales,” said Rod Lopusnak, ATV operations manager for American Suzuki. “Because they are all new models, there should be good margins in there. I think with the industry slowing down, the dealer tendency is to cut prices. Manufacturers are giving out incentives.”
Lopusnak says although it’s early, the results of their early product releases have been positive.
“We’re just starting to ship the Hayabusa now, along with the B-King,” Lopusnak said in late October. “We are seeing success with the new Hayabusa — it’s definitely driving some people into the dealerships and is a very profitable model for our dealers. So that’s definitely a good sign.”
Suzuki dealers also are starting to get the new KingQuad 750s and the KingQuad 400. Lopusnak adds, however, that many dealers have a misconception about the national selling cycle of ATVs, which doesn’t have the seasonal sales swings that are seen with other powersports vehicles.
“If you look at the seasonality chart for ATVs and even more so for UTVs, the only real months that there is a decline are January and February,” he said. “It goes down to 5-6 percent (of total sales) depending on the specific model. And there is a little bit of a spike in October, November and December, but it’s not that drastic. If you get a dealer who’s in tune with his business, he’ll realize that with all his products — whether it’s PWC or side-by-sides, ATVs or motorcycles — that business is pretty flat. You’re doing probably 8 or 9 percent of your business each month on average. But there is that perception out there that there are peaks and valleys regarding sales.”
Adam Nash, owner of Nash Powersports in northern Iowa, says his ATV sales numbers show a definite dip during the winter, but he agrees with Lopusnak that dealers need to understand the region of the country they’re located in will play a big part in seasonal sales highs and lows.
“From November-February, my sales are down an average of 10-15 percent,” he said. “Once December comes and the hunting seasons are mostly over with, there isn’t that much of an interest in ATVs or UTVs until spring. My sales have flowed that way each year I’ve owned the dealership, but I understand that’s the nature of business in this region, and I try to adapt the best I can.”
Nash, a multi-line dealer who carries Suzuki ATVs, says he’d like to see a combination of later product releases and an attempt by manufacturers to add more customer incentives during traditionally slow months.
“I already have had several customers asking me about the KingQuad models, and whether that will translate into sales, I don’t know,” he said. “But anything the manufacturers can do for dealers, especially those in the northern climates who have lost their snowmobile revenue, is a huge bonus.”
Lopusnak says he agrees that manufacturers can certainly help dealers with promotions and adjusting product release dates, but in the end it still comes down to the dealer being able to close the sale. “We are in a partnership with our dealers, and it certainly benefits everyone to have sales strong throughout the year,” he said. “If you’re a dealer, however, you still have to maintain that same level of service and customer satisfaction. Without that, all the advertising in the world won’t help an individual dealer succeed.”
Beck agrees, and says as a dealer he understands the manufacturers are there to provide tools to success, but that it’s ultimately on
him and his staff to benefit from any promotional efforts.
“If we don’t greet the customer, understand their needs and create a welcoming retail environment, it won’t matter what kind of event we have going on outside our doors,” he said. “Our sales won’t increase unless we do our jobs and capitalize on the opportunities that these promotions provide us.”
—Neil Pascale contributed to this report