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V-Twin Expo – A Success Story 16 Years In The Making

For nearly two decades, the V-Twin Expo has brought together business-minded industry professionals each February to network, collaborate and exhibit the latest products for the V-Twin market.

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[dropcap]F[/dropcap]orget Field of Dreams and the “build it and they will come” mantra. To have a successful trade show in the powersports industry, you have to give the industry what it wants, at the time it is wanted and in a location the dealers and vendors want it. For the American V-Twin market, the V-Twin Expo by Easyriders is what the industry is asking for; February 6-7 is the right time and the Duke Energy Convention Center is the right venue.

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For nearly two decades, the V-Twin Expo has brought together business-minded industry professionals each February to network, collaborate and exhibit the latest products for the V-Twin market. The timing is right, too. “Dealers want to see what’s new right before the riding season kicks into overdrive during Daytona Bike Week,” says show producer and founder Jim Betlach. “We just give the industry what it is asking for.”

“The show is the size of the industry,” he explains. “Nothing more, nothing less.” A true microcosm of the market, the show has expanded and contracted during the sometimes turbulent ride since 2000. “During the chopper craze when we had dozens of aftermarket frame makers and specialty OEMs like Big Dog, American IronHorse, two different Indians and the like, the show expanded.” When the chopper craze crashed and the overall market tanked in 2008, the show contracted accordingly. However, the date and the location stayed constant, again based entirely on what the market wanted.

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For nearly two decades, the V-Twin Expo has brought together business-minded industry professionals each February to network, collaborate and exhibit the latest products for the V-Twin market. The timing is right, too. Dealers want to see what’s new right before the riding season kicks into overdrive at Daytona Bike Week.

“The V-Twin Expo has stayed true to its vision – providing a world-class V-Twin-focused tradeshow,” explains V-Twin Expo sponsorship manager Darcy Betlach. “We could have added side-by-sides, ATVs and watercraft to fill the show floor,” she admits, but that is not what the dealers or the vendors wanted. “We remain constant because there is a need which is clearly answered each February in Cincinnati.”

The good news is that the market wants to expand in 2016. Of the exhibitors on the floor plan, a good number VT_2015-02-06-17.51.10are first-time exhibitors, including big guns from the automotive aftermarket like MagnaFlow exhausts and Red Line Oil. “New players are always good to have in the game and it reflects that the V-Twin market is continuing to rebound… 10% growth is well ahead of the national average and most other segments of the powersports market.  According to the latest MIC data, all on-highway motorcycle sales were up 6.4% through the end of 2015, while the total motorcycle market (dirtbikes, dual purpose and scooters combined) was only up 4.7%, so V-Twin Expo’s growth is definitely ahead of the curve!

It is not just new players, but long established companies keep coming back. “All the major V-Twin aftermarket players are returning,” Betlach says. “From Bikers Choice, Custom Chrome and Drag Specialities to Hard Drive and Mid-USA… they are all here.”

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Betlach is justifiably proud of his record for retaining exhibitors as well. A record to be proud of, particularly considering the number of show options there have been, including the ballyhooed Big Twin West events in Las Vegas circa 2004 and the once formidable Dealer Expo that had been based in Cincinnati before moving to Indianapolis in 1998 (see “HISTORY LESSON” sidebar).

[pullquote]“A true microcosm of the market, the show has expanded and contracted during the sometimes turbulent ride since 2000.”[/pullquote]

As for the AIMExpo, Jim is surprisingly not against it. “AIMExpo is a phenomenal show… and it affects the V-Twin Expo in no way whatsoever.” Betlach notes that consumer component of the show makes AIMExpo an apples and oranges comparison to the V-Twin Expo. “Our dealers and vendors want the timing of the V-Twin Expo to stay on the calendar before Bike Week in Daytona and they want it to stay a dealer-only event; adding consumers and moving to Orlando in the fall is not what they are asking us for.”

Darcy adds, “The V-Twin Expo is the place to be to exhibit your products and brand, share knowledge and learn about the latest related to the V-Twin industry. Industry professionals can immerse themselves in the premier trade show for the V-Twin industry.”

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Get what you asked for, the V-Twin Expo is set for February 6-7, 2016, at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dealers gain access to the American V-Twin industry’s top manufacturers, distributors and designers. In addition to the 200+ exhibitors, a series of educational seminars, industry party and the annual industry awards program make for a full weekend.

For a full schedule of seminars and events, including registration information, visit: www.vtwin-expo.com


Team America Seeks World Domination
By Bob Kay

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The AIMExpo Championship of the Americas was held for the first time in Orlando this past October. The winner of the Free Style class, Jeremy Cupp of LC Fabrications will go on to Germany next October to compete in the AMD World Championship held in Cologne, Germany during Intermot courtesy of AIMExpo. However, Jeremy will not be going alone.

This year’s second place winner, Larry Moore of Moore’s Customs will join him from his win alongside Jeremy at the last AMD World Championship held in Sturgis. You see myself,

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Bob Kay, with my partner in crime, Jeff Najar has been trying to put together a Team America ever since that last championship stand in Sturgis. The AMD World Championship is now held every other year in Germany. Now if you were paying attention you would have noticed I said Jeremy also won a chance to compete at Intermot at that last Sturgis event. Being the gentleman that he is and his desire to make the inaugural showing of Team America stupendous Jeremy stepped up and offered his second opportunity to George Stinsman of Chaos Cycle. Our last member of Team America 2016 is Sean

Ruddy of Chop Deville who won his position at the Harley Museum 110th Anniversary Pro Invite Show.  Our dream to bring some of America’s best to Germany for a heads up custom competition is finally a reality. Of course we could have never funded this venture without the help of AMD, the Harley Davidson Museum and AIMExpo. Thanks to AIMExpo and the MIC we will now have a minimum team of 2 competing in future AMD World Championships of Custom Bike Building as the winners from the AIMExpo Championship of the Americas Free Style class progress forward. We are all looking forward to some stiff competition and some great party time, ready or not here we come.

About Bob Kay:

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Bob Kay has been involved in the motorcycle industry for more than 4 decades. He is a thrid generation Harley rider, although he did start out in a Honda shop and did some short track and club roadracing in his younger days. He has run and owned multiple retail outlets, was a partner at Nempco, the Bikers Choice and transitioned with that company to become Biker’s Choice as part of Tucker Rocky. He was heavily involved with factory customs at the turn of the century as part of American Iron and Hard Bikes. More recently he has been involved in producing custom bike shows, including AMD World Championship, Harley Museum Pro Invite and the AIMExpo Championship of the Americas. He currently works for MIC Events as the V-Twin Director of AIMExpo.


A TRADE SHOW HISTORY LESSON

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The Janet Thompson Trade Show Management event in the early 1990s, Custom Chrome’s annual Warehouse Show, Big Twin West, Motorcycle Industry Magazine’s ATVi Expo, Drag Specialties Showcase and even MPN’s MotoBusiness Conference & Expo… the motorcycle industry has had quite a number trade-only events in recent memory. However, with the largest and longest lived dealer show and its supporting trade publication going dark after 50 years with the demise of the Dealernews Dealer Expo, The Easyriders V-Twin Expo now becomes the longest running dealer event in the U.S.

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Founded by Jim Betlach in back in 2000, few had any idea that the V-Twin would become the proverbial “last man standing” – least of all Jim himself.

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What he did know was that there was a void in the V-Twin market. After starting with Tom Rudd (who launched Drag Specialties and Küryakyn) and later with LeMans Corporation, Betlach had worked in the V-Twin aftermarket his entire professional career before joining Paisano’s Easyriders team to head up the Bro’s Club rider’s insurance program.

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One of the highlights of the show is the industry awards ceremony.

“I even went to meet with the Dealer Expo show producer Advanstar in 1999 after they had moved the show out of Cincinnati to tell them that the industry needed a V-Twin specific event,” says Betlach. Advanstar apparently didn’t agree, so Betlach approached his boss, Paisano owner Joe Teresi with the idea. “I told Joe I wasn’t a very good insurance salesman, but I had been involved in custom motorcycle and car shows my whole life and there was a need for a V-Twin dealer show. He agreed and told me to test the waters.”

Betlach went to the Laughlin River Run on a fact-finding mission. “I sold half the booth space we estimated we would need the first day and by the second day, companies were coming up to me trying to buy space!” The industry had spoken and Jim was listening.

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[pullquote]“Even for an industry that was riding high on the hog, six trade shows in less than 12 months, on top of all the usual OEM dealer meetings, was simply too much of a good thing.”[/pullquote]

The show coincided with the industry’s boom, a 13 straight year run of double digit growth for the motorcycle market. In short succession there were a number of other trade events launched, with Advanstar initiating its Off-Road Expo in Las Vegas in October of 2003; MPN’s  MotoBusiness was launching in January of 2004; Big Twin West two weeks later (at the same venue as MotoBusiness, no less); Dealer Expo announced its “show within a show” plan to segregate all the V-Twin exhibitors into the RCA Dome during the February 2004 event; and finally the Motorcycle Industry/ATV-Industry ATV dealer show was launched in October of 2004.

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Hard Drive was a first time exhibitor at the show last year and pulled out all the stops with one of the largest, busiest booths.

Even for an industry that was riding high on the hog, six trade shows in less than 12 months, on top of all the usual OEM dealer meetings, was simply too much of a good thing. In the beginning of a series of strategic business blunders, Advanstar alienated the V-Twin market with its Dome decision (rhymes with dumb). “Our marketing to retailers will be very clear: ‘There are two shows,” is what Advanstar GM Tracy Harris told the media regarding the show-in-a-show decision.

“That was probably the beginning of the end,” says Betlach. The V-Twin Expo had three successful shows under its belt by this time and rather than telling exhibitors and dealers what they needed, Betlach and his team were busier than ever asking the industry folks what they wanted in a trade show.
“We asked questions, listened to the answers and tried to deliver the best event we could… same formula we are still using for the V-Twin Expo to this day.”

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In published interviews, Betlach said that 74% of the exhibitors from the 2003 show had renewed for 2004 as of mid-May. “The V-Twin Expo won’t be affected by Advanstar’s plans for a Big Twin West show,” he told PSB. “We’ll do our plan, based upon the feedback we got from exhibitors and attendees.” To paraphrase baseball great Yogi Berra, it sounds like deja vu all over again!

VT_2015-02-08-11.49.44In subsequent years, Advanstar’s decision to put the Dealer Expo on hiatus for 2013 and move it to Chicago in December in 2014 not only made it an easy decision for the V-Twin market to shift to Cincinnati, but also created the opportunity for the AIMExpo in Orlando to take place. “I think everyone saw that Advanstar was becoming more distanced from the market and basing its decisions on something other than what the industry wanted,” says Betlach.

Although it hasn’t always been easy, there is no chance that Jim will ever be distanced from the market. Even now after two decades of running the show, he admits that he cruises the show hall in Cincinnati after everyone has left, stopping at virtually every booth to see what’s new. “I’m still a kid in a candy store,” he admits. “Is this a great industry or what?”

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