Coming out of Dealer Expo, the annual mid-winter powersports industry convention in Indianapolis, many of the attendees and industry representatives seemed troubled. Although it's not a new feeling, since the flame-out of the industry in 2008-09, this one seemed different. Long gone are the days when the show was so large that a portion of it had to be held on the floor of the nearby Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the Indianapolis Colts). For this year's event, there was enough room to invite the Indianapolis version of the Progressive Motorcycle Show to share the main floor of the convention center. Both shows are expertly produced by Advanstar, and are incredibly enjoyable from a scooter-fan prospective. Those there for other reasons, though, might beg to differ.
It didn't start out well. This year there were dark clouds on the horizon as powersports dealers and their personnel converged on Indianapolis. On the first day of the show, Advanstar, the publisher of Dealer News and the organizers and promoters of Dealer Expo and the Progressive International Motorcycle Shows, stunned the attendees with the news that the Dealer Expo was moving to a September date. Equally as important was the fact that the next Dealer Expo was to be held in September, 2014. That means that for over a year, there will not be a Dealer Expo. There will, however, be a powersports show.
In May, 2012, AIME, (the American International Motorcycle Expo) announced that its inaugural show will be held Oct. 16-20, 2013 in Orlando, Florida. This is a significant blow to not only Dealer Expo, but to all of the powersports dealers located close to the Indianapolis-based show. Advanstar has long reported that a vast majority of powersport dealerships were within six hours of travel from Indianapolis. We'll see what the success of the new AIME show spells for Dealer Expo, but let's dig a little deeper on the dates for both of these shows.
Timing is everything
With AIME happening this year in October, and Dealer Expo happening, perhaps in Indianapolis or another location next year in September, many questions were raised at this year's Dealer Expo about the timing of a powersports expo, no matter who was putting it on. That time of year sees northern-located powersports dealers clearing out spring and summer riding inventory, mostly scooters and ATVs. Their business at that time of year is basically one of consolidation. Selling what will sell and shifting to a more hunting-oriented business of ATVs and cold-weather accessories as the season comes around. Clearing out the warehouse and getting ready to offer winter storage is also a popular way to keep the business operating during the cold winter months.
Also during that time of year, several exhibiters noted, are friends and family events like baseball, football and soccer. "If I have a kid in football," one Dealer Expo attendee noted, "you can forget me being there (at the powersports show)."
Another wrinkle is what seems to be an overall decreasing need for large physical shows, as one exhibitor noted. Saying that his booth and expenses were costing him "well over $20k", he thought aloud that he could undertake a similar-sized effort by physically visiting his largest accounts and by a mail/internet based discount program for the rest and for new dealerships. "I don't know if there is a need for these large shows anymore", he mused, looking around at his empty booth.
Where are the people?
I didn't hear many happy stories about the sparse attendance at Dealer Expo 2013. Although there were periods of good crowd flow, there were many more periods of empty walkways with exhibitors staring forlornly at each other across the quiet, empty aisles of the Indiana Convention Center. This is especially bad news for smaller exhibitors whom might be blowing their entire marketing budget on attending a big show, only to find that what few dealers show up are mostly there to connect with mega distributors like Tucker-Rocky and IMS.
I've been looking at the relative sizes of the large "International" pavilions over the past three years that I've attended Dealer Expo and there is change there too. Pavilions are small, usually single booth small vendors specializing in a very narrow range. Helmets, gears, brake levers, jackets, etc. are usually displayed by people from the company who make them. It's a direct connection to these far-away companies and their success is one reason that shows like Dealer Expo keep going. Three years ago the Italian pavilion was a decent-sized one, housing nine to twelve (or more) vendors from Italy and doing what seemed like a good business. There was no Chinese Pavilion to speak of. Two years ago, the Italian Pavilion was reduced to four booths, only two of which were occupied, but the China pavilion was joined by a large Taiwan pavilion. This year Italy didn't have a pavilion, just a regular booth with a solitary Vespa in it and rare attendance by anyone minding the booth. The China pavilion was bigger than ever, with probably 30 plus individual sellers of scooter/motorcycle/ATV components and riding accessories. The Taiwan pavilion was bigger too, with perhaps 24 booths. New this year was a Pakistan pavilion, with probably 18 individual vendors similar to the Chinese and Taiwanese exhibitors. This shows that the center of world scooting production is shifting away from Europe and to other areas that are able to support rapid prototyping and the inexpensive production required create modern transportation devices.
The outlook for powersports expos doesn't look healthy right now, but it's always seemed to bounce back in the past. It's clear that there are some questions to be answered about what kind of a show is needed, when it's needed and where it might make the most sense to have. We'll see how successful AIME is this fall in Orlando, but we might be witnessing a sea-change in how dealers determine what they will carry in their stores and hence what will be available to the public.