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How prepared are you for a Suzuki-like letter?

Dave McMahon, Editor-in-Chief
April 29, 2013
Filed under Columns

American Suzuki Motor Corp.’s Chapter 11 filing brought with it a restructuring of the company’s U.S. dealer network, which you can read more about on the cover of this edition.

Dealers on the chopping block received their notification letters during the third week of March, and soon after the phones began ringing at the Powersports Business office. Then, the fax machine started chirping. Only 17 pages later — when’s the last time you received a 17-page fax?! — I had in my hands a bunch of lawyer-speak, with words like “Dealer” “you” “Bankruptcy Code” “Bankruptcy Court” “Bankruptcy Case” and “Dealer Agreement” all bolded and underlined.

The lines that read “your Dealer Agreement will be rejected and you will no longer be an authorized dealer of new Suzuki motorcycles” didn’t take on any boldface or italicized type. It looked just like all the rest of the 17 pages. As the 98 dealers that Suzuki decided to cut can attest, there’s no way to sugar coat that predicament, either in type or in real-life.

Can Suzuki legally do this? That was the response of one of the dealers I spoke with. Days later, another fax — (What is with legalese and faxes? I haven’t received a fax in eight months, and I get two in five days!) — chimed in, this time from a law firm announcing an “Emergency Conference Call” for rejected Suzuki dealers. Apparently one of the dealers I talked to was on to something. My guess is they have “class action” on their mind.

Whether you still sell Suzuki products or were on the purged list, there’s not a better time than now to take another look at your business and plan for the future. Granted, the bulk of the dealerships that were cut from the network were multi-line, and sell units other than Suzuki. Heck, some dealers talked to their Suzuki-selling peers who were cut from the brand and wanted to know how to get in on receiving a rejection letter of their own. Either way, the mantra by which both can abide is “What’s Next?”

Are you prepared to make big-time business decisions in a time span of less than 10 working days, which is essentially what many Suzuki dealers faced? Do you have an attorney who can tend to your needs at a moment’s notice? Are you familiar enough with your monthly reports to know that if OEM XYZ were to send a similar letter to 100 dealerships of its own in the coming weeks or months, you would know the product is collecting dust on your showroom floor and that you could be on that list? Or do you know that all of your customer-friendly events and your top-notch customer service is enough to make you No. 99 on a list of 98 cuts?

Don’t forget the website

Dealers reacted to the Suzuki story in a variety of manners. There’s no better way to stay on top of breaking stories like this one than by checking out website at PowersportsBusiness.com.

More and more industry types are doing just that. The site has shown significant increases in total page views, total visits and unique visitors in January and February combined.

Here’s how the Jan.-Feb. combined numbers look, compared to Jan.-Feb. 2012:

Total page views: 27 percent increase
Total visits: 58 percent increase
Unique visitors: 20 percent increase

Special delivery

Managing editor Liz Hochstedler provides another insightful look at dealership operations. In this case, it’s a cover story that describes how Long Beach BMW has taken a new look at giveaways it offers as part of the bike delivery. Key chains and T-shirts have their place, but the dealership has been highly successful by providing each one of its proud new bike owners with a Butler Motorcycle Map upon delivery.

Essentially, it creates all sorts of goodwill by providing proven riding routes, and it gets the bikes back into the store for service. Without the map, some new riders might not have known about the tantalizing 200-mile loop, and instead opted to stay home on a weekend day rather than hop on a bike. Even better, the Butler product was named a Nifty 50 winner earlier this year by Powersports Business.

Drop me a note to let me know what your dealership provides in the way of unique delivery giveaways.

Growth potential

Jeff Hemmel, the longtime PWC writer for Powersports Business, plucked another plum gig out the lineup when he joined Watercraft Superstore for a consumer-oriented test ride on the waters of Tampa Bay in Florida. SBT and Watercraft Superstore owner Greg Pickern formed the Skyway Ski Show last year, and Year 2 was an even bigger hit. It’s yet another innovative way for a company to take an idea, grow a segment, and make more money. Sounds like the perfect combination. Check out the Q&A with Dave Longren of Polaris to find out how that company not only grows segments, but creates them.

UTV racing 101

Senior editor Tom Kaiser takes a long, deep dive into the business of UTV racing in this edition. In case you’re wondering, they are folks looking to buy race-ready UTVs, they have cash, and they will spend it. If they don’t spend it at your store, they will be spending at another dealership instead.

Speaking of UTVs, those of in the northern part of the country are raising a glass, er, muddy snorkel, to High Lifter. They’re taking the Mud Nationals show on the road this summer, and it’s landing only a few hours away from the Twin Cities.

Family expansion

Terry and Josh Doughty, the father and son who own Harley-Davidson of Appleton in Appleton, Wis., have now purchased their second dealership in the state.

The Doughtys are the new owners of the 48,000-square-foot Capital City Harley-Davidson in Madison, which they will rename Badger Harley-Davidson, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. Terry Doughty has owned the Appleton store since 1980, and Josh has worked there for about 20 years. Josh will become the operations manager at the Madison store.

The family purchased Capital City Harley-Davidson from Bob Oyler, who is retiring after owning the dealership for 11 years.

Dave McMahon is Editor in Chief of Powersports Business. Reach him at dmcmahon@powersportsbusiness.com or 763/383-4411.

 

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