“The show is going very well overall, and we had high expectations,” said Mike Collins, president of Parts Unlimited, when we spoke on day two of the Parts Unlimited NVP Product Expo in Louisville in January. “We figured dealers in this area would be hungry to see other people.”
Besides other people, dealers were also starving to see new parts, accessories and gear in person at this show. Parts Unlimited had chosen to cancel this event the last couple of years due to Covid-19.
Powersports Business attended the Parts Unlimited event in Louisville, Kentucky, Jan. 21 and 22. This year’s event covered more square footage and included more aftermarket vendors than ever before, according to Collins. “When we don’t have a show, vendors and dealers are very disappointed.” Collins added that Parts Unlimited is also supporting the MIC’s AIMExpo show this year. “There is a place in this industry for in-person shows; I still believe that. What we are doing is confirmation of that. There was something very healthy about going to Indy (Indianapolis Powersports Dealer Expo) and seeing your competitors and talking with them. We all need that.”
The distributor rewards dealers who attend with discounts and special pricing on orders, but it’s more than that, according to Collins. “We want to make it a good business experience. Our reps work hard with the dealers they think need to be here. A lot of the reason dealers continue to come is because of the relationships with the reps and with the vendors. Dealers do not place orders during the show weekend. “We want the dealers to come, get educated, have fun,” said Collins, “and do the order work later with their reps.”
Collins and Paul Langley, chairman of Lemans Corp., the parent company of Parts Unlimited, hold a cautiously optimistic outlook for 2023. “We are going to be conservative but we’re going to stay on the gas, just maybe not full throttle,” Langley told dealers during an address Sunday morning, before I sat down with Mike Collins. He repeated Langley’s message and said that the Parts Unlimited and Drag Specialties reps bring a lot of individualized data to meetings with their dealers. “Not every dealer is the same,” said Collins, “some have been down, and some are increasing sales. Each dealer orders according to their own business plan.” We walked the show floor to see what those dealers might be ordering. And we noticed a couple of interesting storylines.
Parts Unlimited is embracing the growth of the electric bicycle market, and teaming up with Intense electric mountain bikes, as well as several bicycling accessory companies. This is not a brand-new initiative for Parts Unlimited, nor for the powersports industry. Tucker Powersports has made a big push in the e-bike and accessory market, with reportedly mixed results (depending on who you speak with). But the crossover between motorcycling and bicycling is clear, especially when looking at off-road riding.
“We see e-bikes as a definite crossover opportunity for dealers,” said Collins, who said when he worked at Malcolm Smith in the 1980s, they sold then-new mountain bikes for a short time. “Today, we’re not just looking to sell bicycles, we want to have a catalog of accessories that dealers can access to support all bicyclists.” Several vendors displayed cycling products at the show, including Thule bike racks, G-Form protection gear, Kali Protectives helmets, and motorcycle industry icons such as Pirelli. Scott Griffin, Pirelli’s vice president of the motorcycle business unit, said the company hired a new “Velo” manager to handle bicycle products. Jon-Erik Burleson, executive chairman of Intense Bicycles, said the powersports industry is in the “incubation phase” with bicycles. “Powersports dealers have a lot of customers who are recreating on bikes,” said Burleson. “The question is if dealers choose to recognize that and serve those customers.” He added that advocacy and trail access are big opportunities the industry must face right away.
Not all vendors were talking about bicycle products, but many did mention product inventory as a focus for the year ahead, and that includes Parts Unlimited executives. Some vendors are still behind with inventory, including Arai Helmets, one of the newest vendors in the Parts / Drag family. The company has months of wholesale orders to fill internationally, “so everyone is fighting for attention,” said Arai’s Brian Watson.
For the distributor itself, inventory is still a top priority. Chairman Paul Langley told dealers, “We will make inventory investments so we can get goods to you quickly.” Those investments include spending on warehouses as well as technology updates. In his address to dealers, Langley was unequivocal as he told attendees the company planned to update from its old main-frame computing system to modern technology that would improve operational efficiency. Collins also addressed the company’s tech hurdles, calling the current system “limiting.” He said, “A new system will allow us customization and flexibility. It will make us a better partner and a better supplier.”
Our event barometer showed a high level of positive energy throughout the weekend, and we heard that from others. “This show this year has been very good for us. And we’ve heard no negativity this year,” said Pirelli’s Griffin. Pirelli expanded its booth size to 40-ft. x 40-ft. for this year’s event, up from the usual 10-ft. x 20-ft. Booth.
The positive energy was pumping from the tuned pipes in the S&S Cycles booth, where Eric Bondy, VP of sales, helped introduce a largely motorcycle-focused group to the company’s new line of UTV-focused performance parts. S&S is investing a lot to introduce this brand extension to powersports dealers. Bondy sees a big opportunity in the off-road market, and he’s aware of what S&S has built in the V-Twin market. “We can’t lose our core audience,” he said. “We have to keep a focus there too.”
It’s easy to be positive at a new product show just months away from the nationwide start of the riding season. Some vendors did express concern about the state of the American economy, but those vendors were in the minority, and Paul Langley did his best to convert those through his positive positioning.
He said he’s not concerned about recession in ‘23, though he and the company are looking with caution at 2024, depending on what the Federal Reserve does with borrowing rate. For this year, he said, “We are going to be conservative but we’re going to stay on the gas, just maybe not full throttle.” Powersports Business will present a full report of activities following AIMExpo in our March 2023 issue and online.