AMD attended the recent Tucker Dealer Show at Fort Worth, Texas (January 2019) and to accompany our review of vendor company and product news we spoke with newly minted Senior VP of Sales and Marketing Greg Blackwell to get his take on how the company draws a line under the past few years and builds a platform from which to win back dealers and take sales from their competitors …
When it was announced that industry veteran Greg Blackwell had joined Tucker as the new Senior VP of Sales and Marketing at Tucker, the general reaction among those who knew Greg, and knew about his background, was that this was a powerful signal of intent.
There was some surprise that a former senior LeMans, Drag Specialties and Parts Unlimited executive of many years standing would be invited to take a similar role at their primary distribution rival. It has certainly succeeded as a way to flag a change of culture.
It was surprising to many given the controversy that first greeted the announcement of the “merger” between a MAG that included several of LeMans’ top selling brands and their primary distribution. In early 2014 that announcement was news the market, still traumatized by and in recovery from the impacts of the financial crisis, had to work hard to digest.
Given the multiple difficulties that have confronted Tucker since the relationship with MAG was announced in 2014, it is an appointment that can only be interpreted as a positive signal for Tucker, and therefore a positive signal for the market.
For Blackwell though, once he got to meet the new MAG board and understood their thinking and direction of travel for the distribution business, the decision became an easy one.
“The Board very quickly sold me on what the new ownership wants to achieve, how it wants to do things differently and avoid the mistakes that have been made in recent years. The ownership understands that MAG and Tucker need a board that is well-stocked with industry experience and understanding, which it now has, and needs an equally experienced new management team that can draw a line under the past five years, including the filing, and move the business forward practically and realistically.
“That they see me as somebody who can contribute to that future makes me very proud. But fundamentally, I agree with their desire to see the businesses in the Group being operated by people with as much industry experience and knowledge as possible. In my experience, the powersports market is unique, one where that experience is crucial, especially so with dealers.
“When dealers meet a new sales rep for the first time for example, they immediately want to know what their market experience or knowledge is, if they have been a racer, are a rider, have a technical grasp and so forth. If that is important at the dealer level of the business, then so it has to be equally as important at the top of the organization they are representing and asking the dealer to buy from.
“Of course, there is also a need for outside experience and skillsets, but there has to be a balance. To encounter an ownership team and a Board that ‘gets that,’ and is seeking to ensure that it achieves that balance and the credibility that gives, can only be good for everyone.
“the board sold me on what the new ownership wants to achieve”
“From a personal point of view my own dealings with Tucker Rocky, as it was, go way back to the days when I was the ‘Metzeler’ guy in the industry, to the days of Joe Piazza and Bob Nickel. TR was one of 15 distributors we had as Metzeler Pirelli, and I still have a lot of friends here from those days, people I used to go out on the road with and who are still here at Tucker, who bleed Tucker.
“I look at what they’ve been through and I think ‘that’s a true passion for your company,’ and with the ownership and the leadership I see people who understand and value that passion and who want to harness it. In coming here, I have encountered a company that wants to get back to greatness, and who understand what it is going to take to achieve.
“So those two things made me decide that I wanted to be part of the team that makes Tucker the ‘Good Guys’ again.”
Blackwell’s first significant role in the powersports industry was as President of Metzeler Pirelli in North America, a role he had for nine years. He then spent 14 years at LeMans, initially as a pioneer of the Brand Manager role, and then for many years as VP Sales and Marketing.
Blackwell’s twin passions are motorcycles and bicycles, and after LeMans he managed to scratch an itch to return to his native California working for the Accell Group, one of the world’s leading bicycle, parts and accessories distributors.
He followed that by running PG&A for KTM North America, then got a call from Motovan, Canada owners Mike and James Paladino. They had completed buying MTA Distributing from Larry Popp and wanted Blackwell to head up the headquarters operations they were transferring from Louisiana to California.
After three years as President at MTA, another call came from MAG, and Blackwell is now faced with what will be one of the biggest challenges of his life - to make Tucker an effective competitor for the market leading distributor he did so much to build into the powerhouse it became on his watch.
So how does he think he is going to be able to start doing that? “Well, one of the most important first stages is to rekindle our relationships with our vendors, our dealers and our sales teams. We have a lot of really smart people, who are passionate and who want to be able to love their company again.
“I believe they have been in a state of turmoil with the changes that have gone on for the past few years. We just need to help them to do their jobs and use the experience they have.
“I think they need leadership, and the team to provide that is being assembled. In Hugh Charvat we have a new CEO for the whole of MAG who is the real deal, he ‘gets it,’ he’s an enthusiast as well as a smart operator, and he and the new management team, board and ownership partners are all on the same page. We all know what we want to do, what we need to do and there is a plan to get us there.
“The people here at Tucker have had a blurry windshield for the past few years. Coming into the company the one thing that has been clear is that something needs change - the company failed after all. Part of that change is bringing in new people - people with the knowledge and experience needed for this market place; people who can make the changes and reorganize the company for the future, and do so in the ways needed to get it back to being a sales organization.
“We have to recognize and understand what has gone before, but we also need to move on. We are a new company now, and we are already in a better position than we were a year ago, especially in terms of inventory, and the new ownership understands just how important that is.
“That understanding means we can refocus on our number one priority - the dealer. We have to remember that they are the number one priority, and that is what I am selling to the reps - that it is important for them to re-engage with our dealers.
“Here at the show I am listening to our vendors and learning what it is they need from our sales force, and what tools our sales teams need to be more effective for our vendors. I think the team selling system we have here is interesting, it means the sales teams, and therefore their dealers, have good support systems enabling them to deliver access to everything that Tucker can be for them, and help them to make the most of all the opportunities their area offers.
“Going forward I am sure there will be ways we can finesse these systems, and this will be among the changes and improvements I’ll be looking at. At present, I am emphasizing to the sales reps that we need to be selling the whole catalog to create the ultimate experience for our dealers, because dealers need to exploit all the opportunities available to them.
“We need to look at everything we are doing and how we do it and change the way we are doing business. We need to identify what’s good and improve it still further, we also need to see the mistakes that were made for what they were and change direction.
“We are in a difficult market and have very good competitors. If we are going to achieve the growth we think we can create, we have to realize that there’s only one place that growth can come from at this time, and that is from our competitors. We simply have to be better than them.
“Tucker used to be a worthy competitor. I know this, it was my competitor. So, my goal here? To make Tucker a worthy competitor again.”
Twin Power: Under the guidance of industry veteran James Simonelli the legendary Twin Power program has quickly become re-established as a ‘Go-To’ source for well thought out, durable quality stock replacement components, performance upgrades, service staples and workshop essentials; www.twinpower-usa.com
Performance Machine: Now under the leadership of Chris Lindstrom and Sean Delshadi, the legendary La Palma, California based custom brakes and wheels specialist is rapidly ‘getting its mojo back’ with a re-focus on the kind of manufacturing quality backed market leading design thinking that made it the brakes and wheels superstar for decades; www.performancemachine.com
Progressive Suspension: Founded in 1982, and one of the oldest names in the custom suspension business, recent new products include a full suite of suspension upgrade options for the M-8 Softails including monotube and remote adjustable preload shock absorbers, drop-in fork lowering kits, fork monotube kits with external preload adjustment and fork spring kits; www.progressivesuspension.com
BikeMaster: Tucker’s BikeMaster program includes one of the widest ranges of workshop equipment, service items and accessories available. From its versatile 1,100 lb capacity center jack to an adjustable motorcycle dolly, ultra-high performance fully synthetic engine oils, lithium-ion battery charger/maintainer, tire change stand with bead breaker, sealed design motorcycle chains, and heavy duty Moto Tubes, parts, accessories, chemicals and more; www.bikemaster.com
Kuryakyn: Now under the leadership of former H-D, Triumph and BRP man Greg Heichelbech (seen here on the left), recent new products from the legendary Somerset, Wisconsin based accessory specialist have included a major update to its Hypercharger ES program for M-8 Softails and an innovative lighting collaboration with market leading Bullet and Micro custom LED specialist Kellermann; www.kuryakyn.com
Vance & Hines: Recent new products from the Santa Fe Springs, California based manufacturer include 2-2 Staggered Big Shots with Power Chamber for M-8 Softails; hand TIG-welded 304 stainless steel 2-1 ‘Upsweep’ for M-8 Softails; Pro Pipe 2-1 system for M-8 Softails with V-profile header, welded collector heat shield and 4 1/2 inch stepped megaphone; and ‘Code: Read’ - a smartphone diagnostics tool that allows DTC read and clear and real-time live sensor data view; www.vanceandhines.com
Roland Sands Design: One of the leading brand development case studies in excellence of the past decade, whether it is bikes, parts, accessories or apparel, the RSD brand stands for cutting edge aspirational design that reaches across the generations and speaks ‘New Gen’ like no other; www.rolandsands.com
Burly Brand: A brand aimed specifically at ‘New Gen’ consumers that has grown steadily under the discerning guidance of MAG’s Sean Delshadi - from Hex air cleaners, MX style footpegs, handlebars and cable kits to sissy bars, an easy clutch, seats, foot controls, canvas luggage, suspension, fairings and lighting; www.burlybrand.com