The Interactive Future State of AIM Expo & Dealerships

Compare AIM Expo 2019 (American International Motorcycle Expo held in Columbus, Ohio September 25-29, 2019) to Indy Motorcycle Dealer Expo in 2009 and we see a microcosm of the evolving powersports landscape and consumer behavior trends. My participation in AIM this past week gives me renewed optimism for opportunities over the coming decade for current and future powersports enthusiasts as well as the dealers, distributors and OEMs that adapt and focus on executing a customer-centered strategy.

AIM Expo 2019 (Columbus, Ohio) was different than the Indy Motorcycle Dealer Expo that many of us remember in the 2000s and early 2010s. But this change should not be surprising or alarming. In fact, I’m surprised you’re surprised the Expo “isn’t what it used to be”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying AIM is perfect. But to complain that it doesn’t compare to the way it used to be is misdirected criticism. AIM Expo organizers and industry leaders have already started elevating the AIM experience as expectations have evolved. Dealers too, have worked to attract customers as they are presented with a plethora of ecommerce options to obtain information and make purchases.

Understanding the evolving dealer behavior as it relates to AIM Expo participation may provide insight into additional solutions needed to revive customer participation with local dealerships.

The Old Way

As a dealer through the late 2000s, my immediate financial benefits of attending Dealer Expo far outweighed the cost. Like most other dealers, I booked 30% of my PG&A orders in two days. My crystal ball, emotions and negotiating skills were all I needed to save tens of thousands in pre-season discounts and flooring terms for months. Dealers relied on savvy sales representative and stimulating product presentations writing up pre-season booking orders at the show. Discounts were not as transparent and up front so negotiating in person provided a competitive advantage.

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This same process is comparable to the experience that customers once preferred. Drive to the local motorcycle dealership. Find a parts guy or gal. Ask about pipes for motorcycles. Be disappointed with what is in stock and on display. Be shown what could be ordered from the distributor catalog. Haggle for a racer or friends/family discount. Place the order at the parts counter. Bring the bike back in a week. Have the pipes installed and bike tuned in the shop.

The New Way

Fast forward to 2019. Aftermarket distributors such as Tucker Rocky and Western Powersports have opted out in favor of their own events and easier web based dealer portals for dealers to place booking orders. Rich media content including videos and pricing tools are available to parts managers/buyers. Dealers are simply more efficient with the new buying experience. Less human interaction is required. Dealers order more frequently and are able to turn inventory faster throughout the year. Today, the buying experience for dealers to source parts, accessories and gear is much more efficient than it was ten years ago.

The thought of having to drive to the motorcycle shop to figure out what pipes I should put on my bike is inconceivable. With a few clicks of my iPhone, bikers with the same bike as mine will share reviews on pipes, good or bad. Within seconds, several options to buy are available. A few clicks and a couple days later, the box is on my front porch. Scary thought for dealers? It’s reality.

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AIM organizers intentionally added experiential aspects to the event this year. This is a step in the right direction. For AIM Expo 2019, the “Neighborhoods” (The Shop, The Alley, The Camp) were integrated into the exhibitor showroom, a virtual walk through the customer’s environment. This brilliant concept provided a visualization of rider archetypes in their own element. As presented in the MIC General Session, the industry needs to gain a deep understanding of the culture code of the motorcycle and powersports personas.

Many dealers do a great job with demo rides, fun customer events, and focus on service and repairs. However, AIM Expo dealer attendance and dealer showroom visits by customers are not what they used to be.

AIM Interactive – Future State

Many would argue that dealers should attend and support AIM even if they have more convenient and efficient means to buy accessories for their dealership. “Dealers should support the industry.” Fair point. However, additional value needs to be realized for significant increases in dealer participation. In order to understand what is missing in today’s AIM that prevents more dealers from participating, we should ask, “What can AIM give dealers that they can not experience by staying at their dealership instead of traveling to AIM?” (Hint: It’s not pre-season accessory order opportunities and collecting product spec sheets.)

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Those that attended AIM this year understand that there is experiential, intangible value for AIM attendance. Demo opportunities to ride bikes both carried by the dealer and competitive bikes are reason enough for me. Add to that the opportunity to talk to industry leaders and other dealers. You could argue that learning about new products, consumer trends, and technologies are easy enough to find online. But the face to face discussions have value not easily replicated for meaningful connections and insights.

A paradigm shift in the way the industry thinks about the annual event starts with a deep understanding of the needs of dealers and of the industry as a whole in their effort to increase ridership and provide the ultimate customer journey to riding. As we understand dealers and the experiences that would add value, this vision might include the following.

1.    Polaris (PII), Harley Davidson (HOG) and other OEMs will launch a new product at AIM and provide the first opportunity for dealers and consumers to test ride that product by registering for ride times for specific bikes in advance.

2.    Dealer 20 Groups will hold bi-annual meetings during AIM week. They will invite industry guests to join them for special sessions.

3.    For dealers not in 20 groups, AIM organizers will pull together groups of similar and non-competing dealers for a moderated discussion about the solutions to the problems those dealers are facing today.

4.    The MIC General Session will be broadcast live to all powersports dealers and industry professionals. This will help those not attending dip a toe in the water of real engagement and will inspire more to get involved.

5.    AIM will lead breakout sessions with dealer groups to discuss programs being implemented at the dealer level to increase ridership and improve the customer journey to motorcycle ownership.

6.    The Dealer News Top 100 Dealers Competition and Awards Dinner will return recognizing dealers for customer centric business ideas implemented successfully at their dealerships.

7.    Consumer groups and dealers will be invited to participate in focus sessions and panel discussions with manufacturers at the event giving feedback on concept vehicles and the buying and ownership experience.

Leadership efforts from MIC, Dealer News, and key OEMs will help AIM and the motorcycle and powersports industry thrive in the next decade. OEMs, distributors and dealers must be willing to make the changes necessary within their business to become more customer centric and become truly invested in understanding the customer and delivering the next buying and ownership experience. AIM will become bigger and better as organizers and exhibitors continue to add experiential and interactive opportunities. The result in an AIM Interactive approach will be higher OEM, dealer and consumer engagement.

Dealer Interactive – Future State

Just as many dealers have lost sight of the value of AIM Expo because of alternate ways to book pre-season stocking orders, many consumers are now buying powersports products online instead of visiting their local dealer. Some dealers don’t see the point in attending AIM just like many consumers don’t see the need to order their pipes from the parts counter staff.

The solution may actually be the same solution for consumers buying accessories that the AIM Expo organizers are pursuing for dealers. Gaining a deep understanding of the customer and asking, “What can dealers give customers that they can not experience by staying at their home instead of traveling to the dealership?” (Hint: It’s not product pricing and specifications and accessory order opportunities.)

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Floor traffic in dealerships are down, but that doesn’t necessarily mean riders are riding less. They are visiting dealerships less often. Amazon recently announced 1-day Prime deliveries in select markets. Think about the same-day service that dealers can or could provide customers!

Beyond same-day parts purchases, service and warranty work, title paperwork and warranty registration for a new bike, why should customers use dealerships? What other experiential and interactive services are of value to customers? How can dealers better provide customers with the ultimate journey to ridership?

More customer centered, dealer supported, OEM directed experiences are needed to bring customers back into the dealership to experience the great value that dealers have to offer. A united approach is needed to transform the customer journey.

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On Honda Powersports website header on the home page, I love the option to “Experience Honda”. However, when I search for opportunities to experience Honda, the options are dismal. Every Honda motorcycle dealer should have at least one experiential event per week for customers to participate in. Technical and riding skills workshops, demo ride or group ride opportunities, and sneak peaks at local dealerships should be accessible from Honda’s website. Consumers should be able to RSVP or sign-up for these experiences on Honda’s website!

Instead of selling accessories on Amazon direct to consumers, Polaris could include scheduled dealer installation with the purchase of a Ranger winch kit on Polaris.com. Enabling more digital/mobile customer shopping/purchasing experiences supported by dealer services/experiences will be a more delightful buying experience for customers.

Customer experience innovation is the key to gaining and keeping new riders. Increasing ridership is a necessary pursuit that will not be easy! More efficient ways to book pre-season orders should not be the demise of AIM Expo. Amazon selling motorcycle accessories should not be the demise of dealerships. A united effort to understand the customer and deliver value throughout a transforming customer journey will ensure success.

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