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Tuesday, 17 October 2017

AIMExpo 2017

AIMExpo 2017
September 21 – 24

The move to Columbus, Ohio, for the 5th annual American International Motorcycle Expo raised the hopes of a hard-pressed V-twin parts and accessory industry. With the added impetus of Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle becoming exhibitors for the first time, would the move to the market’s midwestern United States heartland yield the hoped-for results?

Well, the short answer to that question is yes and no; kind of, sort of, somewhat.
It provided a foundation on which the show can build forward if the organizers now make the right decisions, but any expectations that the aisles would be rammed with dealers insisting that exhibitors accept their sacks of money were, sadly, not realized.

There was a “just about” viable dealer attendance overall, but not the increases over that seen at Orlando that the organizers and exhibitors had hoped for. Not yet anyway.
Well, that was the short answer. However, with most media outlets simply reporting the numbers and the basics without applying context, the reality (and certainly the long-term significance) of what was seen there was a lot subtler. So here is the long answer, starting with those basics.
The 2017 American International Motorcycle Expo presented by Nationwide kicked off with ‘The Future Starts Here’ opening ceremonies that highlighted the primary challenge facing the industry – cultivating the next generations of riders, “and the critical need for all of the industry to come together to develop our future customers.”
Headlining the opening morning and playing to a packed room were keynotes from Scott Wine, CEO of Polaris, and Matt Levatich, President and CEO of Harley-Davidson. In complementary addresses, each looked at the elements important to grow ridership, and of sharing the experience that we as an industry enjoy and know so well. 

The MIC also unveiled their new direct to consumer ‘RiDE’ initiative - a broad industry program aimed at family and youth audiences that aims to offer an “impactful first-ride experience”. Being staged in a partnership with noted Boston based purveyor of customer engagement and experience, Feld Entertainment, initially the program will see a multi-city tour of “first experiences” offered at 11 Monster Jam Truck events in 2018.
Organizer MIC Events says that some 490 exhibitors had booth space inside the Greater Columbus Convention Center, which is actually up on the 451 seen at Orlando, Florida, in 2016; and with a record of 13 OEMs involved altogether, 9 of them offered demo rides at the adjacent AIMExpo Outdoors! With the show floor essentially sold out of exhibit space, available seats for demo rides outside ended up sold out for nearly all manufacturers – during consumer as well as dealer days.
We here at AMD Magazine received mixed reports on attendances for each day – I guess one person’s good will always be someone else’s disappointment. The first of the two dealer/trade only days felt promising in terms of aisle traffic, with some we spoke with saying they were pleasantly surprised, but some saying they were disappointed though.
Much kudos to the organizers for the candour of their post-show press release – perhaps pointing to the benefits of the industry showcase now being owned by the industry trade association, they declined to hide behind the customary organizer hyperbole and told it the way it was, which in itself is interesting.
“The second day did not follow on from the first, and dealer traffic was much lighter than anticipated. Overall, 2,090 dealer attendees from 1,034 dealerships attended over the show’s four days, a decrease from the 2,459 dealer visitors representing 1,116 dealerships in 2016. 

MIC’s Tim Buche revealed the new RiDE initiative, a broad industry programme to offer an impactful first-ride experience in a partnership with Feld Entertainment that will see first experiences offered at 11 Monster Jam Truck events in 2018

“While hurricanes played a factor from pre-registered attendees from TX, FL and GA, the number is frustrating given the overall increased trade marketing and location of the show.” Personally I actually thought the second dealer/trade day was busier than the first, and I wasn’t alone in thinking that – but a wise bird who’s been round the block way too many times in such matters suggested that it was because those who were doing an overnighter came in for a second morning, making it feel busier, but then with the weekend looming, they headed off home after lunch on the second day.
With regard to the consumer attendance, MIC Events went on to say: “Saturday’s consumer attendance was quite strong and included a ride-in of nearly 300 motorcycles from Iron Pony Motorsports. Our other local partner, A.D. Farrow Harley-Davidson, was also promoting to consumers all week during their 105th anniversary celebration.”
But that “Sunday’s attendance, while steady, did not meet expectations, with a two-day combined consumer total of 11,897 attendees. For the first year in a market, this nearly achieved the fourth year’s total in Orlando of 12,029 in 2016. Based on reactions from consumers, they were amazed at how large the show was compared to standard regional shows, and were extremely satisfied with all aspects of the event, both indoors and outdoors.”
In other “key figures”, 922 “other industry personnel” were recorded as visiting the show, compared to 630 in 2016 – the increase included the AMA’s Congress, held during the trade days, and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s IRETS conference for rider coaches, which took place again this year.

Scott Wine, CEO of Polaris, pointed to the investment in technology as being the pathway to develop products that will speak to digital generations

Media attendees were down with 197 vs 252 in 2016. “With no global launches, overall media attendance was down, but there were increased requests for immediate information from media outlets not attending.  The MIC’s communication arm,, hosted a number of mainstream media outlets with stories appearing in a variety of non-enthusiast media as a result.”
The overall 2017 attendance - including exhibitor personnel – is cited as totaling 18,176 vs 18,399 in 2016.
MIC Events said that “it is important for the Powersports industry to have an annual gathering to showcase new product, conduct business, network and for the critically important reason of coming together to address industry challenges.
“Exhibitor feedback to the MIC Events team focused on the need to attract more dealer attendees. ‘The Future Starts Here’ spoke to uniting the industry to find new riders, and that AIMExpo presented by Nationwide was the venue to have the conversation about industry challenges.
“Similarly, it is going to take a united industry to get dealers to turn out for the most important industry gathering of the year. As an industry, we must realize we’re not living in the days of Dealer Expo in 2006 when there were significantly more dealers in the U.S., and when it was much easier to get them to attend. As exhibitors, we look to you to join us in a variety of ways to help get dealers to attend, and we’d like to continue the discussion as we look to next year’s show in Las Vegas.”
Well, MIC Events is certainly right about the changed times, and I’d actually go so far as to suggest that representation at the show from some 1,000 or so dealerships is pretty good in the context of it being a new event for the region; in the context of these being extraordinarily difficult times for most shops; and in the context of the dealer representation number not being all that much more after four years at (the rather more limited hinterland of) Orlando.
Moreover, given the ridiculously overestimated attendance numbers at the ‘Indy’ Dealer Expo (and V-Twin Expo for that matter) “back in the day”, the 2017 Columbus dealerships number is not so bad.
Is it enough for the nearly 500 exhibitors (including the 13 OEMs) to be able to liquidate the investment from? No, of course not. But is it a foundation that can be built on? Yes.
Which makes the 2018 move to Las Vegas, before a 2019 return to Columbus, that much more frustrating. Sure, there is merit to the idea of moving the show around to cater to different regional markets sometimes, and the hope is that some of the OEMs might decide to co-join their own dealer conventions with AIMExpo if and when it visits the kind of regions and venue cities they have themselves tended to favour for such events in the past.
But while confirming now that AIMExpo will be back at Columbus in 2019 is to be welcomed, I would suggest that they should immediately decide what they are doing beyond that, in order to maximize momentum and industry confidence.
If an every-other-year frequency at Columbus is the way to go, then fine, that works, but confirm it straight away. If, in fact, the organizers are now minded to review the itinerant show concept and ultimately drop anchor permanently in the region where the market’s trade shows have historically worked best, then also fine – but again, announce it now. Don’t be a little bit pregnant over it. In these times when there is more than enough uncertainty swirling about us without adding to it -  give the V-twin market something steadfast that we can build on.

Matt Levatich, President and CEO of Harley-Davidson, pointed to a future in which “it’s all about the software not the hardware, and the software is the consumers whose world is defined by their screens”

By the way, as the organizers know only too well, nobody should be intimidated by the theoretical top line attendance numbers of the trade shows “back in the day”. Once you drill down, the actual number of dealerships being represented at a time when there were so many more, and when budget was flowing like milk and honey, was nothing like those top-line numbers would have you believe – in the region 2,000 to 3,000 dealerships represented (at most) is more like the reality of it, and even those kinds of attendances took more than a decade to build and represented market conditions the like of which none of us are ever likely to see again in our lifetimes.
It is ironic to be having this kind of debate just as Easyriders Events has been forced to wave a white flag of surrender (for now at least) for the V-Twin Expo at Cincinnati, and as the structural changes and consolidation in the V-twin market result in the emerging dominance of the new generation of February distributor dealer, own brand and vendor events that are also re-shaping the trade show landscape.
The timing of AIMExpo is one of its primary USPs, albeit one that seeks to establish a new order of things for such shows in the United States. The combination of trade and consumer, OE/new model launch is a style of expo that has dominated a market in Europe which, although much larger overall, does not have quite the same tradition of OE events or trade shows that has defined the U.S. show scene for these past decades. In the single continental market of the United States people are not likely to hop an airplane and spring for a hotel to see new models that will be in their local showrooms in the fall anyway – so making the show a permanent fixture within easier distance of the greatest concentration of riders is of critical importance to that formula, and of critical importance if the confidence of the OE community is to be maintained.
While on the subject of the fall timing though – a plea to the organizers: if you are going to hold the show in October, please make it a week later, so you recognize the importance of INTERMOT in the years in which it is staged. Hoisting your colors up the EICMA mast solely is not the smartest or most future facing of strategies – especially where the V-twin and wider custom market is concerned. While INTERMOT ‘Customized’ flourishes, EICMA has had to can its custom element in search of a more convincing solution.
Having flogged the attendance issue to within an inch of its life, there is much else that AIMExpo and the MIC can build on for the future.
The excellent ‘Custom Culture’ feature has proven that it is worth investing in and has legs, especially for a midwestern audience, and with one more year of development under its belt can be massively leveraged in 2019 as a major dealer and consumer draw, provided Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle are still engaged.
I have to say that seeing their participation at AIMExpo was inspiring – and given the different places they are at in their business cycles, seeing Harley-Davidson participating at a show in America was especially motivating.
They are a common sight at the shows in Europe. Indeed, for many years our own INTERMOT booth was practically next to Harley’s, and with the advent of INTERMOT ‘Customized’ last year, they even took a secondary booth to showcase their own custom programs alongside the AMD World Championship in Hall 10 at Koelnmesse.
In the United States though, well, that is an altogether different matter, and in a year in which Matt Levatich made a convincing appeal for industry unity and working together to meet the market’s challenges, kudos to the Harley executive/s who had the vision to “go for it” (take a bow Anoop Prakash?), because in partnership with MIC Events and the custom/V-twin exhibitor community, we all now have the opportunity to work together to build a massive new forward facing platform that speaks the new language of “new gen” consumers.
Harley-Davidson has a brand-new generation of communication opportunity within touching distance in its grasp – one that will allow it to add an important dimension to the raft of initiatives it is already seeking to embrace.
The Rallies are great, but they are what they are. H.O.G. events keep the faithful on the straight and narrow, and presumably there’s no reason why AIMExpo couldn’t become a pin stop in the future. Social media outreach, broadcast and print media all have their role to play - any media or marketing person who claims they have all the answers has none of them!
But, it famously has always all been about the mix (ask Henry Ford – a tad difficult but you get my meaning I’m sure!) – and it is all about achieving balance and about exploiting as many different opportunities as possible, finding as many different pathways into the target market’s psyche (and wallet book) as possible.
In Europe the value that the multi-purpose major national and international shows bring to the table has been an established part of that mix for generations. Now, as we seek to prepare ourselves to sell to new generations, seeing Harley respond to the inspirational thinking, vision and opportunity that Mike Webster and Larry Little have worked so hard to create, and that the MIC now backs, has got to be understood as a new kind of long-term initiative with opportunity stamped all over it.