Years ago, with no prior dinner reservation made weeks in advance of the Dealernews International Powersports Dealer Expo, you likely found yourself forced to ingest a cheap, late night meal at Steak ’n Shake. At its height, Dealer Expo overflowed the Indiana Convention Center, spilling into adjoining ballrooms and corridors, Westin conference rooms and, finally, Lucas Oil Stadium. This year’s Dealer Expo fit within the confines of the main exhibit hall with room to spare.
The crippling effect of the financial crisis on the powersports industry shoulders most of the blame for Dealer Expo’s reduced size but does not explain the loss of big-money supporters, such as Parts Unlimited and the Italian Trade Commission, from Dealer Expo’s list of attending vendors. The Italian Trade Commission (an organization that promotes Italian businesses abroad) shifted its support to the American International Motorcycle Expo (AIME) months ago, and while no formal announcement has been made, AIME claims to have also secured the commitment of a “major distributor.”
Although you couldn’t visit a restroom without having your credential badge scanned at this year’s Dealer Expo, for some reason it took Advanstar (owner of Dealer Expo) 1.5 months to aggregate attendance figures. According to the company’s March 27th press release, attendance was down nearly 30% from the 2012 Expo.
Advanstar cites a 36% decline in U.S. powersports retailers since 2009 as the cause for the dramatic decrease. But, wait: if declining retailers since ’09 so severely affected this year’s attendance, is Advanstar insinuating that disenfranchised dealers continued supporting the show when Advanstar reported attendance increases of 7% and 6% in 2011 and ’12, respectively?
The Advanstar press release notes, “The Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) estimates that sales of motorcycles, scooters and ATVs in the U.S. market decreased by 54% in 2012 compared to the market’s peak five years ago.” And, according to Dealernews contributing editor Mike Vaughan in the release, “It seems logical to assume that if you have 54% fewer unit sales and 36% fewer dealers, you’re also going to have fewer vendors as well,” he says.
However, it’s not logical to assume that motorcycle sales fell off a cliff last year – the key phrase in the above quote being, “compared to the market’s peak five years ago.” According the MIC, bike sales decreased over the previous year by 40.8% in 2009, 15.8% in 2010 and flatlined with a 0.3% increase in 2011.
In fact, according to a recent MIC report, motorcycle sales for 2012 were up 2.6% over 2011. “For the first time since 2002, all four segments (scooter, dual, on-highway and off-highway) showed increases in year-over-year new unit sales,” the report says.
Yes, the 452,386 motorcycles and scooters sold last year pale in comparison to the 1.1 million sold in 2006, but last year is the first year of increasing sales since the 2006 peak. By our logic, Dealer Expo attendance should contract and expand along with the health of the industry, not the inverse.
AIMExpo’s VP, Larry Little, casts a skeptical eye at Advanstar’s attendance figures. "What is distressing is that the market in general has been predisposed by Advanstar to expect half-truths and openly questionable numbers when it comes to reporting facts and figures about shows,” he told us in a recent email. “Many in the industry have unflatteringly referred to it as 'trade show math.' We at MPE are sensitive to this characterization and will be working extra diligently to be completely transparent when it comes to numbers reporting following AIMExpo or any other shows we may produce in the future."
During the Dealer Expo weekend AIME (coincidentally?) distributed two press releases announcing that both Yamaha and Erik Buell Racing (EBR) will be attending AIMExpo in an official capacity. While Yamaha will not be conducting its national dealer meeting at AIMExpo, the company will reveal new models at the show along with its entire 2014 line-up, using the event to interact with dealers and customers. EBR will be hosting its dealers as well as displaying 2014 products.
In addition to Yamaha and EBR, AIME expects to soon be making a formal announcement regarding a “major European OEM” and anticipates additional OEM announcements in the next few weeks.
According to Mike Webster, president of the trade show division of Marketplace Events, the parent company of AIME, “we are in discussions with many other distributors who, especially following dissatisfaction with Indy, have indicated increased interest in AIMExpo.”
But Dealer Expo is fighting back. Tracy Harris, long associated with Advanstar in one capacity or another, recently returned as Senior Vice President of Advanstar’s Powersports Group, tasked with the responsibility of evaluating the state of Dealer Expo and instigating the changes, if any, needed to maintain the show’s superiority against the upstart AIMExpo. We sat down with Harris in Indianapolis to understand what she’s doing to achieve these goals.
“Everything’s on the table,” says Harris, “location, timing, format, content. We’re putting every part of the show under a microscope to truly understand what customers want from this show.”
Harris wasn’t acting alone in these endeavors. Joining her at the show was a small army of Advanstar employees as well as Advanstar CEO Joe Loggia. The idea was to speak to everyone possible, from big-money vendors to those with only a small booth, as well as attending dealers and everyone in between.
“We want to do this in partnership with the industry,” says Harris. “We don't want to do it in a vacuum. If the industry tells us what they want, we’ll go build it.”
These are undoubtedly good intentions, but is the effort too little too late?
According to Webster in our Cage Match: Dealer Expo vs AIMExpo story, “When we announced the inaugural AIMExpo approximately one year ago, we did so after two years of extensive research of all market segments. That research revealed an overwhelming desire for an event that is properly timed (Fall), in a more desirable location (Orlando).”
Following AIME’s time and location announcement, Advanstar put forth that it would host two shows in 2013, one during the traditional February dates and a second one in the fall prior to AIME’s dates. However, Advanstar was forced to scrap its second show for 2013.
“The decision not to have a show (this fall) was primarily based on the fact that exhibitors were saying, ‘Come on, this is difficult for us to do two shows in the same year,’” says Harris. “We want to make certain that we produce a trade show that the industry wants.”
To hear what Dealer Expo customers are saying, Harris is configuring an advisory board to better communicate what’s happening in the industry and to continue an open discussion between Dealer Expo and its customers.
Back in December, Advanstar announced its intentions to move the 2014 Dealer Expo from its traditional February dates to September 26-28, remaining in Indianapolis. But apparently the details of that event are still up in the air.
“While we plan to hold these dates, we won't be able to confirm them 100% until the end of the 100-day opinion-gathering time,” Tigra Tsujikawa, Advanstar’s Powersports Brand Director, told us in a March 28 email. “Decisions regarding the future show dates and more will be made based on what the powersports community wants and needs.”
In light of the growing threat from AIMExpo, Harris claims to be unaffected by the competition.
“From my standpoint, what the other show is doing doesn’t have any bearing for me. They’re going to do what they’re going to do,” she says. “I will always guard against doing something in reaction to what another show is doing, because it means I’m not listening to my customers and (instead) paying attention to my competitors.”
AIME hasn’t wavered from its original intention to be a combined trade and consumer show, closely following the format of the EICMA and Intermot shows in Europe. This year Advanstar (which also owns the International Motorcycle Show) hosted an IMS show at Indy in another part of the convention center and allowed IMS attendees to enter Dealer Expo – a trial run for future possibilities.
Harris and the rest of the Dealer Expo staff heard from vendors regarding Advanstar’s failure to communicate that consumers would be allowed to enter the historically trade-only show during the waning hours of the show’s last day. Many vendors communicated to us that they were unprepared to deal with consumers.
Harris says that if there is a consumer element in the future of Dealer Expo, they should not be commingled and that dealers coming in during consumer hours need to be aware they’ll be shoulder-to-shoulder with consumers.
“We’ll never get a 100% consensus, but if there’s a strong majority of people who feel there should be a consumer element to the show then that’s what we’re going to do,” she says.
According to Harris, the powersports industry has changed but Dealer Expo didn’t change along with the industry. There are fewer dealers at the show because fewer dealers exist. But left unexplained is the loss of industry heavyweights such as the aforementioned Parts Unlimited and Italian Trade Commission.
An intention Harris made clear, however, is her focus on delivering something Dealer Expo has been missing – excitement.
“I want to bring the fun back into it,” says Harris. “The sexiness, the energy – all of things to make a good show.”