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May 4, 2009 – The heroes of unintended consequences

May 4, 2009
Filed under Columns

“Unintended consequence.” That is, in most instances, a phrase that precedes exceptionally bad news. Kind of like “The IRS called …” or “Your mother-in-law …”
In many respects, the ominous “unintended consequence” phrase now acts as an umbrella for a whole lot of U.S. retail industries that are suddenly huddled under a downpour of economic despair in wake of the Consumer Product Safety Improvements Act (CPSIA), the federal law that has shelved youth ATVs, motorcycles and related parts and accessories.
It also is a phrase that could have perfectly described Richard Riley’s morning on April 1. Riley and his granddaughter Jenson spent some two hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic heading toward what in itself was an unintended consequence, the “Amend the CPSIA” rally in Washington, D.C. In case you missed it, it was a huge event that drew notable U.S. lawmakers and dozens of retailers and retail organizations that are now caught adrift in a big ole sea of unintended consequences.
For Riley specifically, it was an opportunity to get in front of hundreds of people, not to mention more than a handful of U.S. legislators, and speak about the effect the CPSIA has had on his business, a longtime metric dealership in Fredericktown, Md.
“I did not start as a public speaker,” Riley said. “I got into this business because I wanted to sell motorcycles and I enjoyed riding them. I did not want to be an insurance agent, I did not want to be a banker and most of all, I didn’t want to talk in front of a bunch of people.”
So much for that idea.
Still, when it was his turn, Riley walked up to the podium at the rally with his granddaughter at his side and then spoke passionately about the unintended consequences of the CPSIA: His business is down 15 percent and he won’t be able to rehire some of his employees like he usually does after the slow winter time.
Riley was far from the only industry representative on hand. Fellow dealer Steve Burnside of DSD Kawasaki, Parkersburg, W.V., spoke at the event, which also included members from the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) and the American Motorcyclist Association.
Even with his self-described reluctance for public speaking, it was hardly Riley’s first appearance on a grand stage. The dealer principal is active in legislative affairs affecting the industry and even once was called as an expert witness for the Virginia Supreme Court on a case involving motorcycle throttle mechanisms.
That’s not to say the idea of speaking in front of hundreds at a D.C. rally was especially thrilling. Or so a senior official for the MIC found out. The MIC called Riley about a week before the event to ask him if he would speak at the event.
Riley answered, “Of course I’ll do that.
“And then I called her back a half hour later and said, ‘Got somebody else who would really like to do this?’ And she said, ‘No.’”
Riley laughs as he recounts this, and you get the idea that his and his granddaughter’s eventual D.C. appearance was truly an unintended consequence. “Nobody else wanted it,” he said of the speaking opportunity. “It wasn’t my fault. It was default.”
Still the daunting task of speaking at a D.C. rally was evident and in fact, was pointed out to him by a fellow dealer, who said, “This is going to be an uphill battle, Richard. You really want to do it?’
“I said, ‘Somebody has got to do it. We’ve got to be heard.’ We saw Malcolm Smith stand up.”
Smith, the California dealer and longtime off-road advocate, orchestrated a public defiance of the CPSIA by selling three youth motorcycles in a one-day, publicized event at his dealership.
Of all the negative unintended consequences that have resulted from the CPSIA, there are some positive ones as well. They are infinitely difficult to latch on to with what’s occurring across the nation, but they shouldn’t be dismissed either. Smith’s public defiance is one. Riley’s acceptance to wade through traffic and tell his glum, but truthful story in front of hundreds is another. And the same should be said for Burnside, the West Virginia dealer, as well as the other industry members who cast their voices loud enough to be heard by some key lawmakers.
“The sad thing is,” Riley said of the rally, “in this room we were preaching to the choir. You know what a candidate goes through when he stages a rally now because they only invite people that are sympathetic to their cause. So we probably had 300 sympathetic people. The nice part was there were indeed legislators there that were able to talk pretty candidly about their position, mistakes they make, things they do. We’re in the business of being run by human beings so you’re going to have faults and some problems. We just somehow have to feel the system, given a chance, can work.”
And when it doesn’t work, that there are people like Riley, Smith and Burnside who are willing to stand up and point out the realities behind the unintended consequences.
“Times are hard and it doesn’t look as rosy, so you worry a little bit and you hear all kinds of things going on,” Riley said. “You just have to cast them off and say, ‘Hey, this is the time we live in and we best take advantage of getting done what we can get done.’”
Amen.

Industry insiders

We’ve started what we consider to be a must-see blog called “Industry Insiders.” For many, and you can add yours truly to that list, the idea of a blog doesn’t exactly send the heart rate soaring. Not exactly like opening day at Wrigley Field, right??But please take a moment to check this out because we’ve been fortunate enough to add the insights of some really bright industry leaders here. Expect to see comments on not only dealer profitability issues, but legal dynamics as well, from patent issues to dealership acquisition tips and strategies. We’ll also get perspectives from several OEM executives.
By the way, if you would like to see somebody added to the “Industry Insiders” blog, drop me an e-mail at the address below. Your insights are always appreciated. psb
Neil Pascale is editor-in-chief of Powersports Business. He can be reached at npascale@affinitygroup.com.

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