By Matt Bolch
If you’re traveling to the United Kingdom, European Union member nations or many other countries, you’ll quickly discover the U.S. dollar doesn’t go very far these days.
But for U.S. aftermarket manufacturers that are selling overseas, the weak American dollar actually is helping their sales at a time when powersports markets are emerging in more countries than ever before. North America, and particularly the United States, is by far the biggest powersports market in the world. In large parts of the South and the West, motorcycles, ATVs and UTVs can be ridden comfortably year-round, and the U.S. population of slightly more than 300 million ranks only behind China and India.
So while the lion’s shares of sales are still being rung up in their native land, American manufacturers certainly are enjoying the profit boost that selling overseas can bring.
“The international market has been going very well,” said Jason Moses, district manager of Cometic Gasket Inc., the high-performance gasket maker based in Concord, Ohio. “The weakening of the American dollar makes our products very appealing overseas, and we look for continued growth in our international markets.”
The company always has sold its products overseas and is in the enviable position of being sought out by international distributors. When selecting distributors, Cometic looks for those that plan to warehouse products and establishing a solid relationship with the company. Those that plan to retail on the Internet need not apply, he adds.
Moses says the general powersports market is third-best for Cometic, behind the Harley-Davidson market and the automotive segment. Asked to name the top international markets, Moses indicates Europe and Australia. Japan and Singapore also are seeing higher sales.
Paying attention to the U.S.
The most lucrative international markets for FMF Racing are England, France, Australia and South Africa, says Doug Muellner, national sales manager at the Rancho Dominguez, Calif., manufacturer of exhaust systems and other aftermarket parts. The company will help its global distributors with reduced prices on promotional goods and discounted or free products to race teams but expects the distributor to pick up the slack from there.
“The international community pays attention to the U.S. anyhow, so most consumers have an awareness of FMF,” said Muellner. “After 35 years, we’ve made an impact and continue to spend a lot of money promoting our brand. We have changed and added distributors based on their ability and willingness to promote our products.”
Compared to the American market, where distributors often carry a broad selection of products from competing manufacturers, distributors in the EU usually represent one line for each product type and have much smaller distribution niches than their American counterparts. That can make obtaining broad distribution difficult in many markets.
At the same time, certain parts that don’t sell well here might have sufficient overseas sales to justify their places in the lineup, Muellner says, allowing FMF to carry a wider variety of products. For example, the two-stroke market is alive and well in Europe, according to Muellner. “If a distributor has a parts request for something we don’t make, if the numbers make sense, we’ll do it,” Muellner said. “Within reason, we take a world view of our inventory.”
International sales account for about half of the total volume for Namura Technologies Inc., the Eagan, Minn.-based manufacturer of pistons and gaskets. “Eastern Europe is a bright spot for us,” said Dale Nachman, president. “We’re increasing our presence in that market, but we’re not in every country yet.”
As ATVs, dirt bikes and PWC find their ways into more countries, Namura hopes to be there a few years later as pistons and gaskets begin to need replacement. Nachman says the company sells more four-stroke products internationally than he thought was possible, given that the immaturity of many global markets.
EVS Sports has a large international presence with distributors in nearly five dozen countries, notes Mo Tanaka, international sales manager for the company, based in Rancho Dominguez, Calif. The company manufactures riding and protective gear for motocross, mountain biking, BMX and extreme sports. In some countries, EVS Sports products also are sold as medical devices.
“In the past five or six years, everything has skyrocketed,” said Tanaka. “We pretty much have the world covered, except for Africa. The U.S. market is our biggest by far, but I like to think international is one-quarter of that.”
Sales in Asia are dominated by Japan, which accounts for 80 percent of sales, but EVS products also can be found in South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Australia is another big market, as are countries in Western Europe. Eastern Europe is an emerging market, as is Central America, where Tanaka reports “phenomenal” growth in the past two years.
The company does not sign exclusives with its international distributors but expects its representatives to follow company advertising guidelines and keep communications channels open with the manufacturer. “Our top distributors carry 90-95 percent of our product line,” Tanaka said. “If distributors are actively communicating and growing, we like to take really good care of them.”
All Balls Racing Products has been focusing on building its international distribution channels for the past two years with good results, says Kevin Kraft, partner.
“Before, our primary focus was on domestic sales, and any international distribution we picked up was ‘found’ business,” Kraft said of the seven-year-old company that manufactures bearings and other components from its headquarters in New Berlinville, Pa.
The company is choosy about its distributors, doing business with companies that carry complementary products. Top markets include New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, the sport ATV market in Europe and, to a lesser degree, in South America, and off-road products in Western Europe and now Eastern Europe. While domestic sales at All Balls are up slightly, international sales have increased more than 30 percent and now represent one-fifth of total company revenues, says Kraft, who would like to build the global market to about one-third of sales.
All Balls has attended two shows in Germany and one show in Italy to court global distributors. Company officials also have been asking current distributors and U.S. manufacturers of noncompeting products for leads. “Any domestic manufacturer should have a foot up in the international market because the U.S. dollar is getting hammered overseas, making our products a bargain to many players,” Kraft noted.