taking a break from dealer expo

dealer expo: the early yearsIt’s been 15 years since I took a time out from the annual powersports trade show pilgrammage. Fifteen years of slogging north (why?) into the snow, sleet and slush, usually followed by a bike week encore, first in the mid ’60s but later abandoned as full on lifestyle turned 100-percent commercial. This year, I’m giving it a rest and using the time to concentrate instead on overdue hardware and software upgrades while dedicating a serious investment in time to integrate the latest high tech applications into a leaner, more efficient production and marketing workflow.

What’s changed? Plenty. Before the web, annual trade shows were the only opportunity for new product, catalogs, trends and personalities to converge. Schedules were built around catalog production deadlines. Business publications targeted show issues to preview a limited number of the latest products selected months in advance, and dealers learned about what they’d be selling during the coming year only after they got to the show. Life was orderly and well behaved. Marketplace control was top down and ironfisted in a traditional analog way. That was then.

Today, it’s not exactly clear how best to approach the shows. External events like the economy have exerted a seismic influence, as has the ebb of domestic manufacturers and a corresponding inflow of foreign product channels in their place. Hyper expansion over the last decade especially is now contracting towards what everyone hopes is a more stable base. But the absolute organic change has been the web’s influence in every aspect of marketing, from retail sales to my area: information creation and distribution.

No longer cyclical, new product is blasted out over the web the moment it’s available. Production’s moved from backyard to emerging economies. Distribution is internet based. Customers buy P&A online and get delivery overnight. In other words, the trade show is no longer the only venue for product introduction and support. By the time anyone gets to the show they already have a pretty good idea of what’s new.

I’ve busied myself lately by extensively studying how media is adapting to a web-centric model; how print only titles are holding up, and how web only startups are growing. I’m beginning to see models emerge that look like they’ll be successful in not only carrying out the roles previously held by the print sector, but actually expanding the definition of what mass communications means in an always on culture of consumption.

As a communicator it’s an exciting time. Never before has there been so much creative sophistication on tap. Global publishing? Done. Real time editing? Check. Combined visual, audio and print? Covered. Mass media has become multi-media. The challenge? To stand out as the revolution continues.

photo: The first time I saw a Bourget frame (Dealer Expo, Cincinatti) I couldn’t believe anyone was building bikes like that. A polished aluminum frame? Wow. It was top fuel meets boulevard cruiser, a look that spawned dozens of imitators and endless configurations until the lode played out.