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Americade: A good time by the lake

August 18, 2003
Filed under Features

Now in its 21st year, Americade (which bills itself as the world’s largest touring rally) drew more than 45,000 attendees to Lake George in scenic upstate New York the first week of June. I spent some time at the huge Tour Expo there this year, asking vendors what continues to draw them to this event year after year.
Suppliers like Americade
“Americade has a very large motorcycle trade show,” says Anthony (Tony) Bendetti, president of Iron Braid in East Nassau, NY, “but the biggest thing is its motorcycle diversity. Other rallies are 90% Harley, but here any bike brand can slide into our tent.
“Metric cruisers are most definitely becoming a factor in this market.” Iron Braid, which offers hand-braided, non-slip covers for grips, exhibits at all the major rallies including Daytona, Sturgis, Biketoberfest, Myrtle Beach and the Laughlin River Run. This year they’ll also hit the Harley 100th.
Skip Moscorro’s Texas-based Pancho Villa MotoTours offers guided motorcycle tours into Mexico and South American countries. He also exhibits at the BMW MOA and RA rallies, the Honda Hoot and the New York and Chicago Cycle World shows.
“For years, I felt that Americade was not our market, but markets shift,” says Moscorro. “It’s very focused on riders in that region, with few outside the Northeast cold country. It’s a quality event, very well staged. The East Coast is a unique culture and we’re trying to understand their travel patterns.”
Bushtec Manufacturing and Sales in Jacksboro, Tenn., builds sport/performance luggage and cargo trailers for motorcycles. John Preston, CEO, said that Bushtec has been coming to Americade for 20 years, and usually also exhibits at the Honda Hoot, Daytona, Wing Ding, Sturgis, Biketoberfest and several major state Gold Wing rallies. They’ll also be at the Harley 100th.
“Americade is probably my favorite rally,” Preston says. It’s the location, and because the promoter delivers year-in and year-out in terms of attendance. It’s fairly well run; the staff is fairly mature and has its ducks in a row.
“We’re seeing a fluctuation in our customers, as it’s moving from a primarily Boomer market to a Boomer/X-Generation market. The Gen-Exers are younger, and don’t have the same income or seniority to be able to specify when they can take their vacations.”
Spectro Oils of America, based in Brookfield, Conn., has cut back on its rally activities. “Americade is the only one now” said Ken Ciocci, national sales manager, “but we also used to go to Sturgis, the Honda Hoot and Wing Ding. We’ve been coming to Americade for 20 years; it’s close to home. We used to do oil changes, but liability insurance has skyrocketed to the point that it would now be $70 for an oil change.”
Tom Seymour, president of Saddlemen/Travelcade in Rancho Dominquez, Calif., likes Americade because it delivers the cruiser market.
“We do 25 rallies a year,” he said, “including Daytona, Biketoberfest, the Honda Hoot, Wing Ding, and we often fill in at smaller rallies. We’ll also do the Harley 100th this year. We go to Americade because it’s an important touring and a developing cruiser market. We have been coming here 16 consecutive years.”
Jeff Watson, owner of Pit Bull Motorcycle Lifts in Dover, Tenn., exhibits at 40 to 50 rallies a year, but he comes to Americade because it’s a well-rounded show. “It has a compact vendor area,
is put on by professionals, and has a high quality class of buyers,” he says.
Americade changed this year
Exhibitors had mixed comments about the effectiveness of Americade this year, possibly because of outside influences such as consumer concerns and the upcoming Harley-Davidson anniversary celebration.
“Americade was good, but part of the crowd was missing.,” says Tony Bendetti of Iron Braid. “In my opinion, the Harley crowd was not there in force because they’re going to the Harley 100th Anniversary rally.”
On the other hand, Skip Moscorro of Pancho Villa MotoTours, had a productive show. “This year we came away feeling better than in previous years,” he says. “At the rally we saw 35 of our customers who had been on previous tours, and we saw the potential for more business. It takes time and repetition.”
John Preston, Bushtec, said it was the best Americade the company’s ever had. “It also set the record for the first day of a rally,” he said, “and was the second best rally in the history of the company. It was slightly down in attendance, and I think it was the weather. We’ve had rain at virtually every event this year. Also, the Harley 100th will host more than a million people, and most people only have so much vacation time.”
“Pretty good. It was the first time we sold product, and we did better than anticipated. We found a local dealer who would work with us and handle the sales. We sold some product at the booth, and the dealer got the full amount.” Ken Ciocci, Spectro Oils
Even good crowds didn’t guarantee sales; many consumers seemed to squeeze their wallets tighter than normal this year. “The even was good,” said Tom Seymour, Travelcade/Saddlemen. “We were busier than ever before, we answered more questions, but people did not seem to be in a buying mood. I think that, overall, the motorcycle business is a little flatter this year because of the economy, and people are postponing larger purchases such as saddles.”
rally provides product exposure
“We go for the exposure, to educate people about our tours,” says Skip at Pancho Villa MotoTours. “But Easterners are more provincial and stay closer to home. The further we go West, the more people tend to travel. We have to educate people that it’s okay to go West, to Mexico and Europe.”
Bushtec’s John Preston has a three-pronged strategy: To show the product and to sell its products and services. The company also does hitch installations and repairs.
attendance is key motivator
“I don’t move for less than 5,000 people, and I don’t do back-to-back shows,” says Tony Bendetti at Iron Braid. “I don’t want to burn out my employees; our children want to know who we are. And I don’t ever, ever do first-time shows.”
Demographics are just as important as total numbers for Skip Moscorro of Pancho Villa MotoTours. “We have to make sure it has people who have the income, and they have to be touring-oriented shows. BMW rallies tend to be more oriented toward tourers.
“The real treasure and benefit is what we derive from being with other vendors. We never come away from rallies without being inspired. We look at sharing ideas, sharing lists and forming relationships. We have attempted to do a lot of that.”
An event’s physical size is important for Bushtec. “We need a sufficient number of touring riders, as opposed to general riders. We want no fewer than 3,500 people,” says John Preston.
“As for first-time events, we were among the first to go to the Rider Rallies and Honda Hoot. You have to know about the event, and the people putting it on. Still, first-time events are a crap shoot,” Preston notes.
Tom Seymour at Travelcade/Saddlemen chooses events based upon attendance, and the ease with which he can present his product. “Americade delivers a lot of people, and the rally is relatively easy to deal with. They’re very professional and have their rules well established. It’s relatively easy to set up and they deliver people to the booth.”
But, in the end, it often comes down to trial and error. “It’s hard to tell unless you try,” says Jeff Watson of Pit Bull Motorcycle Lifts. “One guy with X product may do well at a show, while another guy with a different product does not do well. We target shows all over the U.S., and never do a first-year event.”
No conflict seen in direct sales
Is there a conflict for suppliers who have dealer networks to sell direct to consumers atevents such as Americade? Exhibitors don’t see any.
“We stand by our prices, and get full retail price at shows,” says Tony Bendetti at Iron Braid
Bushtec has very few dealers, and it’s hard to convince dealers that trailers are not an accessory, but a profit center, says John Preston.
“They need to be sold,” he says. “The dealers are reluctant to commit to the inventory.
“We don’t guarantee our dealers a geographic area. If they will retain the inventory, we’ll refer customers. But we don’t tell customers they have to buy from the dealer. We encourage them to use the dealer, but if it’s not convenient or not satisfactory to the buying experience, we’ll sell to the buyer.”
To Tom Seymour at Travelcade/Saddlemen, it’s a simple situation. “The main reason we are at the shows is to promote our products and inform potential customers about the unique features we offer. But it is very costly to participate so we sell at each event in an attempt to defray our expenses.
“Plus, we have a dividing line in products. We bring our ‘custom’ products to the shows. For example, the large Gold Wing products are largely custom built to the riders’ height and weight, and we offer custom colors. We bring along about 400 to 500 custom seats to the shows. We encourage potential customers to purchase our other products through their local dealers.”
big investment
Events such as Americade are not simple projects. They eat up dollars as well as man-hours.
“Just pulling the truck and trailer there, not counting booth space, food and housing for a crew of five, it’s $6,500,” said John Preston of Bushtec. “At major rallies the booth is always over $6,000, then there’s 10 days of food and lodging for five people, 2,000 miles of fuel expense, so Americade is a $25,000 commitment. Most rallies don’t generate sufficient site sales to justify our coming, but we make so many contacts. That’s really critical to the future of our company.”
From Travelcade/Saddlemen, Tom Seymour added, “We had 40 man days of labor, and a 40-foot trailer behind a double sleeper tractor truck. We feel it’s important to talk to people and learn the trends. We get feedback, answer questions, put a face on the company. Also, we learn what the customers want, like what about that new GL1800 seat?”
Jeff Watson of Pit Bull says the company has three set-ups: a 40-foot tri-axle trailer, a 20-foot and a 16-foot. “For the outdoor shows we go big,” he says, “but for the convention center shows we go smaller. We’ll bring 40-50 lifts to a show.”

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