Higher Education

What you don't know really can hurt you... How does a dealer find out what is really going on?

Happy new year! Time to get a fresh start in your business, or better yet, build on the success of the past year. What? You say business was bad last year? Are you sure it was the market that was down rather than just your operation? According to MIC numbers, motorcycle sales through September were actually up again by 3.7%. This marks 14 consecutive years of market growth. Sure dirtbikes took it in the shorts (down about 10%), and the cruiser market appears to be cooling, but maybe it’s your head stuck in the sand rather than the market’s fault?

Instead of fat-tired choppers, the cruiser crowd seems to have shifted from 300-series rubber to baggers (one look at the V-Twin Expo show floor can confirm this). Touring bike sales finished out 2006 with an increase of 18%. Even Victory is announcing a brand new touring bike (sorry, the embargo says it is a secret until the middle of this month). Sales of big bore MX racers dropped, but more little dirtbikes were sold by KTM, the Japanese Big 4 and a host of Chinese competitors than ever before. Even the popular pit bike paradigm seems to have shifted from "fiddy" fad bikes to 110-based bikes and soon to be 150s? (See "Mini Market Mayhem" on page 38).

Ignorance may be bliss, as they say, but it is also a ticket to bankruptcy city. What you don’t know really can hurt you… and therein lies the rub, as Shakespeare says. How does a dealer find out what is really going on? As Yogi Berra would add, "you don’t even know what you don’t know!"

Sure, the trade rags do their best to help, but there has been a serious lack of dealer training available. In fact, Howard Kelly from S&S takes me to task for being a hypocrite in this month’s "Soapbox" column. However I’m not talking about technical training so much as the art and science of running the store. Personnel management, sales training, F&I updates … there is plenty you need to know and precious few places to find it.

Fortunately, this situation seems to be correcting itself, somewhat. OEM programs and new dealer orientation training now take place. Motorcycle-specific trainers have also emerged as experts like Otis Hackett, Bill Shenk, Michael Turner and our own MPN columnists John Wyckoff, Mark Rodgers and Steve Jones are barnstorming the continent offering dealer training.

The 20 Club concept has expanded from Ed Lemco’s original group of dealers brainstorming to solve common problems and set some store performance benchmarks. Nobody knows the answer to your problems like a fellow dealer standing in your shoes, right? Now 20 Club membership has become the rule rather than the isolated exception … at least for progressive dealers.

Speaking of being progressive, distance-learning programs have finally reached the powersports industry. My friend Mark Rodgers offers a very comprehensive educational series of CDs so that you can learn on your own time without shutting down the store. But the most progressive approach of all may be the new instructor-led online training classes from Dealership University.

Forget the school of hard knocks, now you can enroll in DU! "We believe our instructor-led online classes will appeal to a large number of individuals who desire the interactivity of a classroom environment and the flexibility of an online course," says DU president Rod Stuckey. Rod knows what he’s talking about having learned first-hand what he didn’t know about running a dealership when he took over the family business.

For more than a year, Rod and I have been comparing notes on what we could do to help fill the educational void together (so I’m a little slow on the uptake). In addition to DU’s online classes, Lead Cyber Instructor Dr. Nikki Sloan’s new column launches in this issue.

I’m living proof it is tough to teach an old dog new tricks, but make it your New Year’s resolution to better educate yourself … and don’t be surprised to see business get better.

A different slant on dealer education: Dr. Nikki Sloan has been around the industry her whole life, but we first met in person at the MotoBusiness show to discuss dealer education. Since then, she has joined Dealership University as their Lead Cyber Instructor and now has a column here in MPN.

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