To call this year’s AIMExpo event the best one ever is a three-part truth.
- First, it’s a reflection of post-Covid FOMO; we all just needed a large in-person event.
- Second, it’s part historical look at the mixed history of an event that has searched for meaning in an evolving events era.
- Third, it’s part preview of our collective embrace of the broadening powersports industry that is powered by far more than internal-combustion two-wheelers and their shiny exhaust pipes.
That last part was the objective reality evident to every attendee, especially those with some years in the industry. The diversity of products and services at AIMExpo this year was greater than at any previous industry trade show.
Electric vehicles, fashion apparel, and software mingled seamlessly with exhaust pipes, helmets, and tire-changing tools – just like they could in your business. And while the show floor included large displays of original-equipment vehicles, it was a modern mix including familiar brands such as Suzuki, Triumph, and Yamaha amid lesser-known names including QJ Motors, Felt Bicycles, and UBCO. Here’s our show recap.
Several original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) had large product displays at AIMExpo, with newly launched QJ Motors holding the largest and most prominent presence near the entryway. Distributed in America by SSR Motorsports, QJ’s range of vehicles runs from a 50cc scooter up to its 750cc adventure bike.
“AIMExpo is the launch of QJ in America,” said Peter Jones, the brand’s marketing manager. “We showed some vehicles here last year, but we did not have inventory then. We will have a display at Daytona Bike Week, too. That’s a first for us.”
While many powersports brands from China have entered and exited the American market over the last few decades, QJ is an established brand with a commitment, according to Jones. “QianJiang is an international company with both manufacturing and technical projects involving several manufacturers around the world,” said Jones. “Most motorcycle brands,” he added, “do some manufacturing in China.” About 300 U.S. dealerships currently carry QJ Motors products, with the company actively recruiting more.
Dealer recruitment was a priority at the Triumph Motorcycles exhibit also. “We have had displays here before for dealer development,” said Bill Archer, Triumph dealer development manager. “This year we have more bikes on display, plus tables and chairs and meeting room space,” he added, stating that the display offers the right mix of product visibility and relationship building.
Archer said Triumph is looking for dealers in specific markets and has hired dedicated recruitment managers. The manufacturer’s sales growth, new product development, and looming entry into the off-road market puts it “in a really good spot,” said Archer.
Many exhibitors attended AIMExpo in part to find new retailers, though several companies commented that dealer attendance seemed low throughout the three-day event. While every event exhibitor (powersports or other) craves maximum attendance from potential customers, the AIMExpo dealer-attendance numbers could use a boost.
Following the event, AIMExpo said that 1,676 “dealers/retailers” attended the event, compared to 1,849 “exhibitor staff.” The promoter reported that 875 “unique dealers” attended AIMExpo.
Several of the manufacturers attended the event to talk about new products, services, and brand relationships. Suzuki showed attendees its new V-Strom 800DE and GSX-8S, two motorcycles powered by its new 776cc parallel twin engine, among other products in its display space.
Piaggio Group Americas came back to AIMExpo to share numerous updates with dealers and the larger industry. From updated dealership display opportunities to a new e-commerce platform to staff changes, Piaggio had a lot to discuss. The company’s display area had motorcycles, too, of course, but the presence of several tables and chairs proved they wanted to sit down and talk.
The KTM North America display area covered a wide area and a wider range of products. The company’s branding was seen in the new RC8C track-only sportbike and the off-road bikes on display. The orange branding leaked over into the neighboring displays of GasGas and Husqvarna motorcycles and bicycles, as well as into the MV Agusta display where the company showed off the new Super Veloce sportbike.
The future of the powersports industry is, in part, electric. Whether in bicycle form, as exemplified in that KTM display featuring e-bicycles from GasGas and others, or in motorcycles, scooters and four-wheel vehicles. Several exhibitors were at AIMExpo to talk about bicycles, like those in the Yamaha display area.
While Yamaha has sold its e-bicycles in America for only a few years, the company claims to be the world’s first manufacturer to the marketplace with electric pedal-assist bicycles. The brand will celebrate its 30-year anniversary and has made more than four million bicycles to date. We’ll feature the challenges and opportunities of the e-bike market in our April issue.
Attendees saw electric vehicles of all kinds and got to sample several of them at the show’s indoor e-bike demo area. Brands such as UBCO, Monday Motorbikes, Greenger Powersports, Quiet Kat and more made noise with their relatively quiet powersports vehicles.
Chuck Schram, director of North American sales for Monday Motorbikes, said that dealers showed strong interest in his products, though many had questions, too, about what type of customer is buying e-bicycles.
On the electric motorcycle side, Greenger Powersports used AIMExpo to show new products still in prototype form, and to generate conversations with dealers about the brand. Doug Chapman, Greenger’s general manager, said that he already has plans to make specification changes based on feedback from dealers.
UBCO, the manufacturer from New Zealand with an Oregon-based distributor, showed its new and unique 2x2 electric motorcycle (no pedals). Individual motors in both the front and rear hub give this bike two-wheel drive performance and a claimed 30-mph top speed. Vehicles like this present a unique opportunity for powersports dealers interested in looking for new riders. Many of these EVs carry suggested retail prices that make traditional motorcycle manufacturers a bit jealous.
Judging by the occupied floor space and the branded signage overhead, this event could be considered the Tucker Powersports show. The distributor’s three large display areas in the center of the floor showed a microcosm of the broader product diversity available to powersports dealers.
Marc McAllister, Tucker president and CEO, gave me and several editors a tour of the company’s products, and he emphasized the support and opportunities the company provides, from streetbike riding apparel and replacement parts to e-bikes and related accessories.
“AIMExpo is part of our investment in something of value for the dealer,” said McAllister. “It’s critical for dealers to stay current; shows like this represent the industry to consumers in a way the internet can’t.” And in an “internet-can’t-do-everything” message, McAllister said that the company is moving away from online-only catalogs and will allow some dealers to acquire printed catalogs to better serve customer communication.
The diversity of the aftermarket was on display beyond the massive Tucker display too. In an exhibit partnership that drew attention to two brands newer to powersports, Atturo Tires borrowed a Segway UTV to help showcase Atturo’s new Trail Blade tires as well as its Tucker Powersports distribution.
Attendees who walked the whole floor and looked a little harder, like at the less-glamorous 10x10 and 10x20 booths, found a variety of products with business-boosting potential. Directly across from our own exhibit space, Peak Design embarked on its entry into powersports.
Known for making high-end accessories serving photographers and outdoor enthusiasts, Peak Designs presented moto-mounted accessories. Off in another corner of the event space, a fashion-forward company called ATWYLD brought its motorcycle gear and apparel designed and manufactured for women. Anya Violet, a co-founder of ATWYLD and a moto enthusiast, was able to talk with authenticity to dealers in attendance about the connection between motorcycling and fashion.
AIMExpo included powersports veterans, too, with companies like MotoNation, Warn Industries, Maxxis tires, Optima Batteries, National Cycle, and others continuing to fill the needs of dealers and industry professionals.
Motonation’s Bill Berroth showed the newest SIDI X-Power off-road boot, but added, “It has not been the best time to show new products. Dealers are talking about inventory levels, everyone is, mostly related to clothing.” Berroth said his company’s inventory levels “have been good. I’m pretty conservative and didn’t stock up like so many others did. We’ll be able to adjust inventories as needed after seeing how the spring season goes.” Berroth wishes more dealers would attend shows like this, adding, “It’s good to be out and to reconnect, and to see those who are optimistic about the industry.”
Most striking about AIMExpo, and the element that proves this is a trade-only event and not a consumer show, is the prevalence of technology companies. Not the kind of technology to program fuel-injection mapping; the technology that smooths dealership operations, enhances a dealer’s lead management or boosts e-commerce capabilities, to name just a few.
ZiiDMS presented its RFID (radio frequency identification) technology. “The powersports industry is about 10 years behind the automotive industry with technology like this,” said Lou Pedler, director of product development. Pedler said that his RFID product can help improve efficiency and profits through improved inventory tracking.
One of the tech giants on the show floor, Lightspeed gave away bright orange caps with a bold “450” on the front, and they weren’t talking about the Supercross race class. “Some dealers consider Lightspeed too expensive,” said Mike Blair, Lightspeed sales manager. The company showcased its $450 per month dealership-management system (DMS) plan designed for smaller dealerships and new businesses that might not need the company’s full-feature offering.
With more than 80 percent marketshare in the powersports industry, according to Blair, Lightspeed is a popular destination at this event. “At AIMExpo, we talk to dealers about possible service enhancements, plus we can do some training and support,” said Blair.
And they talk about partnerships and integrations with other service providers. “We love our partnership with Rollick,” Blair said. The same sentiment was echoed from the Rollick exhibit, where the company handed out information materials explaining the integration and technology connection. Rollick was on hand to discuss the company’s email nurturing and digital retailing experience systems.
“Powersports dealers might have concerns about losing some face-to-face time with customers,” said Dustin Hunt, channel sales and enterprise lead management for Rollick. “We are not trying to interfere with relationship building. We are not selling. We are working to create a better and more informed starting point with this engagement tool.”
Hunt says the company has data showing people continue shopping online, but they’re taking longer to purchase, and Rollick’s tools can help ease and speed up that process. While integrated with Lightspeed on the dealer side, Rollick also integrates with a company called Kenect, also at AIMExpo, that enables efficient text messaging with customers and prospects.
A technology service with a widely recognized brand name, eBay Motors held a large space on the AIMExpo exhibit floor to talk about how it can help dealers move vehicles. “We’re trying to get dealers to offer inventory, vehicles and P&A, through eBay,” said Tyler Keith, head of sales and account management for eBay Motors, from an exhibit booth offering dealers freshly baked cookies and/or an ice-cold beer.
The company has been working to gain a professional foothold in powersports for 20 years or more. It has certainly built an online sales platform that any seller of a motor vehicle or accessory – dealer or consumer – can use to reduce inventory. The company hopes its AIMExpo exposure can help it become a legitimate B2B platform.
“By going through our team,” said Keith, “you pay a subscription fee up front, and then save money, depending on the number of transactions. Dealers will find it costs less than just doing a sale yourself on eBay.”
The company’s advantage is the combination of established technology plus user data. “Our sweet spot is that our buyers are capable and reliable and trustworthy. We have verification systems for both buyers and sellers. We have been to AIMExpo before, but never with such a big presence.”
Dealers could also shop the software of a Lightspeed competitor like the full-service offerings of a DX1 or the expanding (once H-D focused) Talon Powersports Solutions, or the digital marketing services of Octane Powersports, or the customer-relationship management programming of Dealership Performance CRM.
So many tech service providers attended AIMExpo to showcase their digital products that it changes the thinking for any dealership considering (for next year) who to send to the event. Even though this is generally not a “buying” show, dealers need to send people who can talk about everything from tire compounds to helmet fit to software integration.