AIMExpo 2023 Recap Part 2: Powersports Industry Issues

From retaining COVID customers to welcoming female riders, panel discussions covered a host of important topics.

Sitting in on educational presentations and panel discussions is always a priority for us at AIMExpo, and every year, AIMExpo’s Disruptive Thinking seems to get bigger and bigger. This year, there were a myriad of important topics pertaining to powersports dealers, but we’re going to focus on some of the big-picture ones centering on the state of the powersports industry.

State of the Industry Panel

We are about a year out of the COVID frenzy, and the focus of much of the State of the Industry panel, presented by the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) board of directors, was about how we as an industry can settle back down and sustain the unorthodox buying power that consumers had during the pandemic.

John Hinz, president of KTM North America said it best: “In January 2020, our team talked about how there’s been more changes [in the industry] in the past 10 years than the past 50. And then everything really changed; now there have been more changes in the past two years than the past decade. And sometimes it feels like there’s more changes in the past two months.”

The industry is changing fast and so are the consumers. The extremely large presence of e-bikes at the show was a prime example of that. 

Supply chain and inventory was another hot topic, as it has been since 2020. With so many new consumers entering the powersports market in the past few years, it’s hard to quantify how many buyers actually knew enough about what they were purchasing. Inventory was low during the pandemic, and that meant that many first-time buyers who were eager to empty their pockets may have made the wrong purchase due to lack of availability. Targeting these COVID buyers and getting them to stay invested in the industry is a must.

MIC board, AIMExpo, state of the industry
The MIC board presenting the state of the industry panel.

Now that supply chains are beginning to stabilize, dealerships are understandably looking to ramp up quantity. This may be necessary, but the understated factor is having a diverse product mix. National Powersports Auctions (NPA) CEO Jim Woodruff explained how important it is to have a diverse catalog when considering seasonality and the increasingly wide spectrum of vehicles out there.

Incorporating different manufacturers and brands that dealers haven’t touched yet might be the way to go moving forward. Even when looking at the insanely wide classification of a “motorcycle,” there’s single-cylinder street bikes, sport bikes, dirt bikes, V-twin choppers, electric motorcycles, etc. And within those categories, there’s even smaller subsets.

Giving new buyers more options is never a bad thing. And when inventory is restored and bolstered with new options, dealers can attack those first-time COVID buyers who may be looking to upgrade to their next vehicles now or simply replace the first ones that didn’t fit them right.

Finally, MIC panel members discussed labor and staff issues. Triumph General Manager Rod Lopusnak put it bluntly yet accurately when he stated that, “Your dealership is the cool place in town; make sure people know that they can work with you and that you have opportunities for people interested.”

A few other MIC board members noted that the powersports industry is an industry of passion, not practicality. It’s unlike the automotive industry, where vehicles are sold (at the low-to mid-price range) almost purely for utility and convenience. Since there is a dedicated “fun factor” tied to the powersports industry, dealers need to focus on building a company culture that reinforces the passion needed for this industry. If you’re asking strictly how to bolster retention, you’re asking the wrong question.

It’s also important that we as an industry look at our next generation moving forward. The powersports industry as a whole isn’t the easiest to enter. There aren’t a wide variety of powersports trade schools, so it’s beneficial for dealerships to reach out to local schools and community colleges to give young people opportunities to learn the industry and get invested early.

The Future of Powersports from the Distributors’ Perspective

The Future of Powersports from the Distributors’ Perspective panel, featuring Marc McAllister from Tucker Powersports, Paul Langley from Parts Unlimited and Drag Specialties, and Chera Gibb from Arrowhead Engineered Products, operated a bit differently than the others. President of Garage Composites Sam Dantzler moderated the panel and hosted a question and answer (Q&A) forum between the audience and panelists. Audience members could use their phones to answer multiple-choice questions that would then be displayed on the projectors into which the panelists to give their insights.

The first question was: How to do you feel about the 2023 outlook specific to the powersports industry? While that is a very vague question by choice, the majority of audience members voted for the answer “cautiously optimistic.”

The rest of the symposium offered solutions to some of the major growing pains that distributors are facing at the moment.

AIMExpo, panel, future of powersports
From left to right: Paul Langley, Parts Unlimited & Drag Specialties; Chera Gibb, Arrowhead Engineered Products; Marc McAllister, Tucker Powersports

During COVID, consumers were swarming showroom floors to the point where the need to pursue a sale was at an all-time low. Little work had to be done between the time a customer entered the door and left it. But pockets are back to being tight, and consumers have less time on their hands, so chasing a sale is going to be more important than ever.

A big part of that process is marketing to the consumer in a successful and efficient way. Something a few of the panelists noted was that the powersports industry is trailing the automotive industry heavily in online marketing and sales, even though 95% of powersports sales begin online. There’s a disconnect between brick-and-mortar dealerships and their digital footprints, and that needs to be fixed to get consumers in the door in the first place.

While first-time buyers and second-time COVID buyers will most likely benefit from the face-to-face nature of a salesman helping to explain the vehicle or product, experienced riders will likely do most of the research for their next purchases online before even hitting the dealership.

Another topic of interest was how supply chain issues in the near future will affect existing owners. With inventory volatility still a very real thing, consumers most likely won’t be able to get the shiny new machines they want as soon as possible. That means that a focus can be put on selling parts and accessories for existing popular vehicles. This is a good year to make sure that you’re focused on the parts counter and what it’s doing for you. Your best customers are the ones coming in the service entrance, not through the front door of the dealership. Maximize those interactions.

Keynote Address with Angelle Sampey

On Wednesday night, Kerry Graeber of Suzuki Motors moderated a keynote Q&A address with three-time National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Pro Stock Champion Angelle Sampey. Sampey discussed her journey as a woman to becoming a motorcycle drag racer and, eventually, the winningest female in all of motorsports. Over the course of decades, she overcame many challenges to break the gender barrier, such as being the smallest racer with the heaviest machine. According to her, that meant she had to be faster, smoother and stronger than her competitors because of the size difference.

As such, the overarching theme of her talk was to not look past others just because they don’t look like “typical” motorcycle riders. Her specific advice to dealers was not to overlook the women walking into their shops, whether they are alone or with their husbands. She noted that woman are well aware of the stigma against them in this industry and that first-time riders especially are likely very afraid to walk into dealerships and ask about the vehicles on display.

Angelle Sampey, AIMExpo, keynote speaker
Angelle Sampey (left) and Kerry Graeber of Suzuki Motors (right)

“So, when someone comes into a dealership and they’re interested in a bike, don’t look past them. If it’s a husband and wife, don’t look past the wife,” Sampey advised, noting that her own husband knows nothing about motorcycles and that she would be the one to talk to in such a situation. “You might be missing a sale if you don’t talk to her.”

Sampey also shared stories of her recent struggles as a racing mother in her 50s, suggesting that even when times are hard, you have to continue to believe and pass on words of positivity. According to her, reminding people of what they’re doing well is just as critical as telling them how they can improve.

  “If sales aren’t going right or just everyday life isn’t going right, I think one of the hardest things to do is continue to believe in yourself and believe in the people around you,” Sampey relayed. “Continue to believe in yourself and everybody who’s surrounding you … and no matter what, please keep telling them that they’re doing a good job.”

Being able to get industry leaders’ takes on the issues the motorcycle and powersports markets are facing is an incredible opportunity, and MIC and AIMExpo keep growing their education sessions year after year. If you missed this year’s AIMExpo, be sure to mark your calendar for the next edition in Las Vegas from Feb. 7-9, 2024. See you then!

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