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Mar. 10, 2008 – Panel confronts current custom V-twin challenges

March 10, 2008
Filed under Features

CINCINNATI — Fred Fox, CEO of the nation’s largest motorcycle parts distributor, compared the current climate for custom V-twin dealers to the time after 9-11.
During a panel discussion at the V-Twin Expo, Fox described how many of his competitors tightened their inventories, believing the 9-11 slowdown that hit the economy immediately after the tragic set of events would linger.
Fox, on other hand, believed the fear that caused many consumers to stay home instead of traveling abroad would result in more motorcycle riding in North America.
“You guys are exactly in the same situation,” Fox told a standing-room crowd during a panel discussion titled “Survival of the Fittest.”
Fox was speaking primarily to custom V-twin dealers in attendance that have seen their new unit sales decrease sharply in the past two years.
“There are 20-25 percent of the dealers in the country whose walls are half bare and saying, ‘I’m expecting bad times. I don’t know what’s going to happen,’” Fox said.
“Those aren’t the guys who are going to be doing the business. It’s the guy who has something fresh, that went to the show and came home and found this new gadget or part or cam, and you’re excited, and you have something to talk about. That is contagious, and the people who do business with you will continue to do business with you.”
Fox’s remarks came during a discussion that dealt with a range of topics on the custom V-twin market, from how to increase traffic and sales in traditionally slow times to how to effectively advertise on a limited budget.
The latter subject was addressed by Randy Aron, the owner of Cycle Visions, a manufacturer and dealership operated out of San Diego. Aron advised custom dealers to get the e-mail address of every consumer that walks through the door.
“The cheapest form of advertising is on the Internet,” Aron said, noting he spends $150 a month to have a professional-looking, monthly newsletter e-mailed to his consumers. The newsletter, Aron notes, is something his consumers can forward to their friends, creating a potentially endless point of online dialogue.
How to stir interest in the dealership in the winter or other traditionally slow times was answered by two other dealers on the five-person panel, Click Baldwin, owner of Carolina Harley-Davidson, and Rick Fairless, owner of Strokers Dallas.
Baldwin, who says his 70,000-square-foot dealership had its best year ever in 2007, suggested an event similar to what Harley-Davidson does with its garage parties, which are aimed at women new to the sport.
Fairless, whose Dallas-area dealership draws thousands on warm weekends, says planning is key.
“You don’t wait until the winter and think, ‘How am I going to get them in there?’” he said. “It’s a process you start in the summer. You can do things like newsletters and different things like that and have some different (indoor) events. But the main thing is to offer something in your town that other people don’t offer. You want to give them a reason to come to your shop vs. going to the Harley shop or somewhere else. That’s something you have to work on year-around.”
The uniqueness factor also was underlined in discussions regarding parts and accessories. Fairless and other panelists noted the value of custom dealers putting more emphasis on stocking parts that the area Harley dealer does not carry.
“If you have the same stuff as everybody else has,” Fairless said, “they’re not interested in that. They want to see the cool, neat stuff. So if you take a Big Dog or Harley you’re selling and you get some of Fred’s parts from Drag Specialties on there, you want to have stuff they can’t go to the Harley shop and see.”
The uniqueness factor extends to vehicles, Fairless says.
“You want to have a bike or a couple of bikes that when they come in (to the custom dealership) and they look at it and call their buddy and say, ‘Hey, Jim, you’ve got to go up to Fairless’ shop and see this new bike he’s got.’ You got to have something cool in there to give them a reason to come to your shop. If you don’t, what do they come in there for? You can buy parts anywhere.”
Including the Internet, panelists note. How to deal with consumers who buy off the Web and then bring those parts into the store for service was a hot topic among panelists and audience members. Aron of Cycle Visions says his store policy is to install those parts the first time a consumer shows up with Internet-purchased supplies. At that time, Aron will explain the store’s policy — it will only install Web-purchased items one time per customer — and the economic impact such buying decisions have on the store and its employees.
To combat the Internet, Fairless said dealers should ensure consumers know they will deal on price and that customer experience will ultimately be the key.
“We try to make damn sure that when guys come in that my people treat them as good as they possibly can, and they are buddies with those people so they feel like they’re cheatin’ on their wife if they buy something on the Internet,” he said.
“I don’t have a retail shop,” said panelist Bert Baker, the owner of Baker Drive Train, “but it’s the same thing. We need to be manufacturing stuff that’s new and exciting and different than everything else out there. I really see that as my mission in manufacturing.
“OK, the industry might be down a little bit, but I don’t look outwardly to blame the industry or the economy. I look inward: What can I do better or bigger than the status quo? And that guides me, guides our process.”
“And that’s how dealers have to think to,” Fairless said. “What can I do better than my competitors are doing? “ PSB

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