It’s been nearly a decade since the economic meltdown of the mid-’00s dealt a way harsh wakeup call to a party the powersports community thought would never stop.
The Everest-like growth curve many believed/hoped/wished would go on forever collapsed like a 3-pack a day smoker on an Ironman swim-bike-run.
It’s against that backdrop that last week’s second annual AIMExpo powersports trade and consumer show in Orlando, in just its second year, seems to have planted their flag firmly atop the carcass of the once invincible Dealernews Dealer Expo, whose looming Chicago in December winter wonderland reincarnation of the event brand they once owned outright, seems now officially and forever dead in the court of public opinion. Continue reading →
“To me the most important thing we need to do right now is listen to our customers. In order for us to get back on track, we need to talk less, listen more and fully partner with the customers who are the reason Dealer Expo exists.” Harris said. “Our industry has changed. What people need from this show has changed. But, we’ve been somewhat slow to embrace that. That ends today.” – Tracy Harris, Advanstar VP-Expositions
Houston, we have a problem. And we’ve had it for a long time. The buzz coming out of this month’s final forever February Dealer Expo was this: zzzzzzzzz. Most comments run along the lines of being able to talk to company CEOs without a crowd – any crowd – around, as unintentionally confirmed by most of the live (search YouTube for 2013 dealer expo) video already uploaded. (Read more about the issues facing trade shows: Trade Shows At A Crossroads)
While it’s been a few years since I last attended, YouTube reporting now making its way online supports the notion that Advanstar threw a party and nobody came. At least not in numbers unseen since the heyday of the mid 2000s.
move to september in 2014 a hail mary
Next year they’ll move to a (much more sensible, and perhaps fatally too long in coming) Fall event, a perfect time to be in the Midwest. All this follows a series of course corrections that can’t be described as anything other than chaotic.
Industry watchdog Joel Martin raised his own penalty flag as one of the first to comment publicly on the failure to deliver the dealer head count that is the lifeblood of a trade only event.
What happens next remains to be seen. The overall trend line for trade shows in general continues to head in the wrong direction. As newly added events like AIME elbow their way onto the scene, Advanstars options are increasingly limited but that doesn’t mean they’re dead in the water.
What it does mean is that the powersports industry cannot continue to support the current level of trade only activity at the present level. While hope these days revolves around the private-public EICMA and Intermot models, it’s possible the problems run much deeper than simply throwing open the doors to retail.
One thing the troubled world of powersports trade events can’t survive and still maintain a credible industry presence is the abandonment of anchored floor space by major distributors.
The increasingly anemic dealer turnout that’s plagued Expo in recent years takes another hit as the persistent rumor of Parts Unlimited and Drag Specialties departing Indy in favor of building their own corporate footprint apparently has legs.
move will affect dealer attendance, manufacturer exhibits
LeMans is expected to announce a budget reallocation that shifts marketing funds from Dealer Expo to expand their own self-hosted Showcase dealer show to include bi-coastal (CA and PA) additions, each with up to 200 vendor slots, in a move that further suppresses aftermarket manufacturer participation in traditional venues.
event marketing strategies engagement starter list
QR Code: if you’re going to include one be sure to test first before committing to collateral or digital. Smaller isn’t better – just less likely to be read by apps, resulting in potential customers unhappy with their smartphone, scanner, or your code when nothing happens.
Event Web Page: update and include consumer and dealer side engagement. Why? Live feeds and updates, repost to fb, twitter, etc. all deliver credibility.
POP/POS: Show your dealers a little love, which by the way works to increase your bottom line. How? Fresh kit of high ROI poster, counter mat, floor talker.
Engagement: Connect with consumers and dealers at the same level with the goal of bringing them together for the sale. How? #hashtag
Social: Think irresistible booth situations to encourage photography/video by new to you customers/dealers. Make sure posting tags are suggested so all roads lead to you. How? If appropriate, make sure product display is camera friendly.
The list of resources to leverage both the existing customer base and a brand new Indy market is long, while budgets to carry out event activities can be contentious. The trick is figuring out which are affordable and offer the best opportunity for continuing the conversation.
Dealernews announced today that the co-promoted International Motorcycle Show has added Indianapolis to their popular coast-to-coast tour. The public event, to run concurrently during February’s Dealer Expo, elegantly solves the thorny question of whether or not troubled trade-only industry events should host separate consumer access to the same exhibits as a survival strategy in the face of dwindling attendance.
IMS, backed by the considerable resources of Progressive Insurance in the role as title sponsor, has long been a popular destination for tens of thousands of consumers during 12 stops annually. Next year, with top of the line venues Lucas Oil Stadium and the freshly expanded Indianapolis Convention Center hosting their respective events, the opportunities for powersports marketeers are substantial, with both B2B and B2C reach available at the same time, in non-competing, comfortable, and convenient environments. For both established lines and just out of the gate startups, it’s a golden moment to engage and promote.
Can Dealer Expo slam the brakes on their downward trend by convincing a reticent powersports aftermarket manufacturing community to reinvest in what has become an auction and Pan-Asian agri-scooter free trade zone? At a time when industry trade shows in general continue to time out, thanks mainly to a sluggish economy and the power of the internet, the proof may well lie in imaginative promotion. This is a great start.
The continuing struggles of the powersports market coupled with the rise of social media haven’t been kind to Advanstar’s Dealer Expo signature event, even less so to its flagship b2b pub Dealernews. This fact was painfully born out when Joel Martin, head of Martin Racing Performance and a leading scooter segment authority, blasted the media giant on his blog for their spin describing last month’s 44th annual trade show. Then he reloaded. In the background I could hear Foster The People humming Pumped Up Kicks.
Mr. Martin took it personally when, after extensively documenting the event for his own blog and YouTube channel, he failed to recognize the franchise version of the very same show.
There are no winners here. A shrinking powersport dealer network that depends on industry press for an accurate picture of how the market is performing, where it’s going, and trends to watch for, gets shortchanged on reality. And there’s the brand that is Advanstar, and the issue of trust and reputation management. Independently verified opinion polling? Missing in action – just the self-congratulatory quotes from corporate employees.
It’s true that, especially for first time attendees, the view is more that of green meadows and perpetual sunshine. But for long time participants well aware of the meteoric rise in market performance from the mid ’90’s to the mid ‘oo’s, there’s no masquerading the increasingly dire situation facing brick and mortar retailers.
time to make lemonade
Who then to fault? Aftermarket manufacturers, industry media, and dealers themselves. All can be called to task for repeatedly failing to ask critical questions, invest in essential marketing, and for blindly continuing to embrace a business plan that’s lost its mojo. Other industries have adapted to similar challenges – Performance Racing Industries’ Orlando event comes to mind.
The industry desperately needs a venue or venues that, like any other dedicated channel, provides a well managed opportunity for buyers and sellers to gather in a common marketplace for a couple of days to assess, visit, become informed, learn, and above all profit. It’s a void Marketplace Events hopes to exploit with their newly launched American International Motorcycle Expo set to open next year. Stay tuned.
In 2010, February 11th came four days after Cincinnati’s V-Twin Expo and fell on the eve of Dealernews Dealer Expo. It’s appropriate that we remember the airing on that date of The Learning Channel’s final episode of American Chopper, a Frankenstein-esque money-maker for cable “reality” whose success in years to come will be impossible to explain.
In 2002, only eight years earlier, the clan from Orange County, New York wheeled a trailer load of rollers and a few customer bikes into Indy and onto a 40×40 island off the main floor of a then still growing Dealer Expo. My recollection, from an advertising perspective, was of feeling faintly woozy at the woefully amateurish marketing, even by powersports’ minimal standards, of a nondescript collection of clones. Continue reading →
It’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. Continue reading →
Motorsports has another performance oriented venue for dealers to put on the go – no go list: upstart International Motorsports Industry Show (IMIS) now goes head to head with the well established Performance Racing Industry (PRI) event, both held the first week in December: IMIS in Indianapolis, the former home of PRI, which was successfully transplanted to usually sunny Orlando and a much larger exhibit facility a few years back.
And both of those shows compete for many of the same dealers normally attending the granddaddy of all automotive events, the Specialty Equipment Market Association’s (SEMA) Las Vegas spectacle traditionally held less than a month earlier in November.
SEMA, meanwhile, padded their portfolio with a newly created Powersports and Utility Vehicles channel which, according to their March press release, “…will feature manufacturers of power-driven equipment, such as personal transporters; motorcycles; motor scooters; two-, three- and four-wheel ATVs; pocket bikes; specialty golf carts; mini-bikes; dirt bikes; and accessories and services that support these vehicles.”
Good news – not – for long established powersports event leader Advanstar who this week conceded more collateral damage to their brand when they announced the Lucas Oil Stadium venue would not be part of their mid-February 2010’s Dealer Expo, also held in Indy after vacating Cincinnati for larger digs in 1998.
And it was that relocation decision that opened the door for EasyridersV-Twin Dealer Expo to move back in with a v-twin centric show of their own in 2000, held a week before Dealer Expo and next year celebrating their 10th anniversary as a trade show producer.
Five major shows covering powersports and motorsports between November and February. If you’re a powersports or motorsports or, worse, a cross channel dealer, be prepared to spend a lot more time on the road wearing out shoe leather and traversing TSA inspections.
The first time I met Billy Lane (left) he wasn’t exactly in any danger of being mobbed by autograph hounds. He was riding a wooden stool in a 10×10 booth at the ’99 Dealer Expo, directly facing Pro One’s transporter and island display. What caught my eye then was the meticulous 16″ spoke rear he was showing off. That, and the whack straight pipes exiting directly over the 3-inch belt drive that surely wouldn’t get five blocks before hitting the self-destructo button.
He returned in 2000, this time with a build that drew the eye of pal Keith Ball (far left), former Easyriders editor on his first trip east to check out the Expo crowd and on the verge of launching bikernet.com. What I most remember is that Keith didn’t know Billy. Neither did good buddy and IronWorks magazine founder Dennis Stemp. And the two to this day most knowledgeable v-twin editors to ever commit ink to paper didn’t know each other. So there we all were, and I was able to make the introductions. Just weeks later Dennis would succumb to the miserably ugly esophageal cancer he’d battled. Talk about irony.
I grew up in Cocoa, just a few miles up the road from Billy’s Melbourne shop, and would visit Chopper Inc. headquarters at his request a couple of times to discuss marketing, coming away with only a half-dozen t-shirts and a handful of clipped bomber nose art inspired stickers. We’d talk on the phone once more, about public relations, just as the cable show celeb arc was in full swing and that was that. Talk about irony.
Jesse James was about five minutes ahead of Billy career wise and is now a bona fide Hollywood “A” list minus celeb. Today a Brevard County judge wrote finis to the reality chopper build as entertainment fad, when he sentenced Billy to six years in prison followed by three years probation for his vehicular homicide conviction. Talk about irony.
As a University of Florida grad, what always struck me was Billy’s education: Florida State engineering grad, just up the road from Gainesville. Not often found in the pedigrees of hot rod bike builders, for sure.
Talk about irony. Talk about fate. Talk about paths taken. Talk about life’s turns.