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Dec. 22, 2008 – A bold undertaking for the new year

December 22, 2008
Filed under Columns

The introduction itself was memorable and these couple of years later, incredibly ironic.
It was in Brea, Calif., inside a large meeting room at American Suzuki Motor Corp. where Motorcycle Division Vice President Mel Harris started a round of introductions of Suzuki officials with the closest one at hand, which happened to be the newly named dealer development manager.
“This is Tom Buttleman and he won’t be speaking today” is how Harris put it, giving Tom and myself a crystal clear signal as to the upcoming discussion.
Two years later, on the outset of probably one of the most ambitious projects in Powersports Business’ history, I’m turning that introduction completely around.
This is Tom Buttleman, or more accurately some of his thoughts on the industry, and if nothing else, I want you to leave this edition with his words ringing in your head: “A lot of times the industry attitude is why would we want to help ABC Motorsports when they also carry XYZ products? We need to look beyond that and see that these are our business partners and we need to help them. Hopefully helping them will help us out too in the long run.”
Somebody fetch me a long robe and a couple dozen “Hallelujahs!”
Those thoughts, dare I say blessed, are the foundation of a new calling for Powersports Business. Next year, we’re expanding our role from strictly a provider and analyzer of industry news into one that also seeks to influence it, although in very concise and measured ways.
Mainly, we’re putting our collective resources, partnerships and established brand name into an effort that we believe could have enormous value to the industry. The effort is aimed at providing practical business practices that have been successfully test driven by dealers and then sharing those in an easy-to-digest format.
A pay it forward program, if you will.
To do that, we’ve undertaken two major tasks. First, we’ve started a contest that will recognize dealers who have implemented a successful business initiative during the past year. We call it “The Bold Ideas Contest,” based off a package of articles that we’ve published the past three years. (See the cover for our latest version.)
Secondly, we’ve worked with manufacturers to help spread the word about the contest and just as importantly, distribute the entry form. So far, 10 OEMs have recognized the importance and value of this contest and have agreed to help. These manufacturers include Suzuki, Honda, BRP, Victory, Triumph, KTM, Arctic Cat, BMW, Ducati and KYMCO.
The contest will work like this: OEMs, through their district sales managers and dealer Web sites, will provide dealers the entry forms that ask: What have you done to overcome recent economic challenges and find success? These initiatives could be in any dealership profit center, from new unit sales to preowned to F&I or service or the parts department. We ask dealers to very quickly summarize the initiative and then the result. The entry form must then be sent back to us.
After we receive the entries, we will follow up with dealers to ask them more specific questions about the initiative. Did it require additional staff? What has consumer feedback been like? Would you do something differently if you were to start it today? All of the little details that make it possible for management of a different dealership, no matter how large or small, to decide if that idea could improve their bottom line.
What we don’t want to do is force a dealer principal or general manager into writing us an hour-long essay on the initiative. We can handle that on our end. What we need is strictly a quick summary of what the new or revitalized business initiative is and some idea of the consequences of it.
Really this is no more than a swift exchange of information. Heck, you can even e-mail your answers to me at npascale@affinitygroup.com and be entered into the contest that way.
Once we receive the entries, we’ll likely form an industry panel that will then judge the entrees and potentially name the top 10. From that list, Powersports Business editors will select the winners, those dealers that we deem have implemented the business practices that have made the biggest impact on their bottom lines.
Of course, the real winners will be the industry at-large. But none of that can happen unless the industry adopts Buttleman’s line of thinking, a notion that Dan Wright, American Honda Motor Co.’s national sales manager, virtually repeated to me in a discussion about the Bold Ideas Contest.
We, as an industry, need to cast away the notion that a best business practice is something akin to a patented product that should be stowed in some hidden safe. Times are too tough for us to hang onto that outdated thinking.
A healthy dealer network — and hence a healthy industry — is one that is buoyed by astute business practices, not weighed down by competitive fears. psb
Neil Pascale is editor-in-chief of Powersports Business. He can be reached at npascale@affinitygroup.com.

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