Diversify or Die - Make That Sale!
Writing this less than a week before flying out to Louisville for the Drag Specialties and Parts Unlimited 2023 NVP Product Expo (God Bless Muhammad Ali!), it looks like my remarks about AIMExpo (Las Vegas, February 15-17) in AMD January ("Does AIMExpo Have The 'Big Mo' "?) have proven prescient.
Having been impressed that the show had managed to bring Suzuki and Triumph in, and then been able to announce the addition of Kawasaki, the latest news sees the addition of Yamaha and an often overlooked and little known (in American terms certainly) but once premium Italian brand (one of many Chinese owned comebacks) called Moto Morini. It is making (and selling) some very nice bikes since being acquired and relaunched by ZhongNeng in 2018 and is about to re-enter the U.S. market for the first time in at least 30 years. Some cool dealer opportunities there!
With the show less than five weeks away, it looks like the organizers have done well in terms of booth bookings and advance registrations.
Of course, it is rare that such statements of intent ever fully materialize as attendance, and the show is still not showing any intent (or ability) of its own to "Speak Custom" - so there's a whole slab of potential attendance they are missing out on right there.
“an opportunity to see different”
However, increased intent is better than nobody caring, whichever segments of the market are concerned, and living, as we do, in times in which even the most traditional of custom shops cannot afford to ignore the additional and new business opportunities in their postcodes, the time of the purist custom expo are probably now more a statement of how we got here, rather than where we are necessarily going.
Very, very regular readers of a decade or more pedigree may well recall that even in the heyday of specialty shows such as the V-twin Expo, I was still always an advocate of custom shop owners availing themselves of any opportunity to see what was going on elsewhere in the market.
Whilst I do not subscribe to the 'Chocolate by the Checkout' and 'Beer by the Diapers' schools of thought that any sale is a good sale, I have always believed strongly in exploiting 'adjacent opportunities' where they present themselves, boost showroom footfall and enhance the local customer's experience.
While the AIMExpo show floorplan may look well populated, it is still far from the high relevance, fully rammed, fully paid layout that organizers and industry alike will be hoping for in years to come - though that presupposes that we are likely to see that kind of trade show phenomena ever again.
The V-Twin Expo at Cincinnati and Dealer Expo at Indianapolis were products of their times, and with LeMans doing such a good job with its NVP Product Shows (Madison and Louisville), the lens of the past is not one through which we can judge the present and likely direction of travel for the future in many matters or undertakings, let alone the classic 'Trade Show' concept and orthodox business model that birthed them.
As Michael Lichter points out elsewhere in this edition, referencing the morphing of his annual 'Motorcycles as Art' exhibition at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip, the times certainly are a-changin'.
Returning to another subject that has been discussed in this column in recent months, I want to express my thanks to the builders who make the custom motorcycle industry what it is, and specifically thank them for their responses to the news (December 2022) that we have decided to close down the AMD World Championship of Custom Bike Building.
It too can be seen as a 'child of its times', but that spectacularly succeeded in its dual aims of bringing honesty and gravitas back to the custom show scene and bringing staging qualities to a top ticket sector of the motorcycle industry that had spent decades suffering prejudice and misunderstanding.
Though I say so myself (I can, because hundreds of others have done so too), the 'AMD' focus on craftsmanship and innovation, design and engineering quality, and a showcase quality that did justice to the genius and price-points in the custom market, did much to turn perceptions on their head just at a time when, as now, the entire status and role of the custom market was changing.
What we are seeing now is that the tribal borders between traditional air-cooled V-twins and all or any other platforms are, ironically, paradoxically, returning to where they were when what we now know as the custom market enjoyed its 'Big Bang' moment.
With some justification, that moment can be traced back to the Post WWII returnees, the strip it down, keep it simple Bobber riders of the late Forties and Fifties. In the absence of many other readily available choices in the United States, air-cooled V-twins were, of course, the lingua franca of custom build and modification opportunity.
For me though, the ignition moment came with the Easy Rider generation building whatever they could from the local salvage yard - if a featherbed frame and Brit or early CB lump 'got it done' then great, 'have at it man' was the vibe. There was no tribal monoculture shaping custom bike building initially at all, and these were the days when brakes and electric starters were for pussies!
But that soon changed, just as everything does. The debt of thanks that we all owe to the likes of Arlen Ness, Dave Perewitz, Donnie Smith, John Reed and countless others of that Golden Era cannot be understated - the friendship and competitive instincts that they and dozens (hundreds even) of other 'fellow travellers' has had a profound impact on shaping an industry and setting trends in motion that still do influence the custom market to this day.
But the process they set 'in-play', of accepting all and showing that all customizing is good customizing (well, kinda - you know what I mean, I'm sure you get what I'm driving at!), is exactly what is at the beating heart of the changes and diverse opportunities that the custom sector is able to embrace now. We don't have to throw away what we have, but we sure as heck can add to it!
If it's good enough for Harley to sell Adventure Tourers, then don't let it be someone else's store that sells that local suburban family the electric powered two-wheeler that they fancy. Make the sale!