Monday, April 22, 2024
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A message from Philip Youles

A message from Philip Youles, Chair of the National Motorcycle Dealer Association (NMDA) and owner of Youles Motorcycles, Manchester & Blackburn.

Covid-19 is undoubtedly going to wreak havoc with the 2020 season, it couldn’t have come at a worse moment just as we were about to reap the harvest and put some fat on for the winter we are facing and now the prospect of three winters on the bounce. Only a few weeks ago the trade had a real positive feeling about the season ahead, all to be dashed by a tiny virus that apparently started or came from China. But wherever it came from is irrelevant, the damage to the world’s economy will be mind-blowing once the full cost is counted. 

As I said in my last article, use the time wisely, look at every part of your business and try to work away through the mess. The strong will survive and as motorcycle dealers are still predominantly an owner-operator industry, the dealer of maturity will find a way to duck and dive their way through the apocalypse. When the tide does go out again in the aftermath you will see who has lost their speedos and there will be casualties.  The ones still standing ought to have a bigger slice of the cake but unfortunately, it doesn’t always seem to work that way as we are a niche industry and there are so many niches within the niche.

 An off-road dealer might not survive but that doesn’t mean the off-road customer is suddenly going to buy a Vespa. Over the years I’ve experienced many competitors falling by the wayside, but our business hasn’t been able or capable of mopping up all that extra trade. When the market has been buoyant the scene has expanded, and everyone seems to have benefitted. So, to that end, I take no comfort out of any business failing to survive this latest disaster. A strong dealer network all promoting the advantages of two-wheeled travel is the best way forward for all of us.

The manufacturers seem to have stepped up to the plate and in the main and offered support with stocking, terms on invoices and other schemes to help their dealer. It is something to take comfort from that in terms of new bike sales, the dealership as we know them today will continue for some time to be the preferred route to market.

Speaking to friends and colleagues the purchase route of new vehicles still seems to rely on the dealerships even if that has been contactless and the sale has been orchestrated to avoid a key worker using public transport. The unique bike at a unique price will still find a home via online media and be shipped to the far corners of the land but that was happening anyway.

The manufacturers will have to take more care of their networks. For me working for a 10% margin is just a joke and then the worlds most complicated ordering system and being forced to take a load of dead stock so you can have another 8% on the units that you can sell is manipulation at its worsted, this will expose those franchises as the worthless brands that they are. Dealers that survive need to ensure they feedback to manufacturers through the correct channels and in a structured way ideally through a well-functioning dealer council. One that operates for the benefit of all and that wants to see the dealer make money so that when this happens again, the dealer might just stand more chance of being there to represent them after the event. 

Assuming the lockdown ends in May or early June and we come out the other side, we have an opportunity of a lift in July and August and because people didn’t go on holiday this year. This could put a little fat on our backs, then the winter wouldn’t be quite as bad as it could be envisaged.

Then what’s the plan? Because we need one. Surely riding a motorcycle or scooter is now going to look extremely safe let’s be honest now you can die just going to the supermarket.

There must be an opportunity in the big conurbations, I personally wouldn’t have gone on the tube every day before this and I certainly wouldn’t want to now. The commuter side of our industry would benefit from bus lanes being open to all. I don’t know how to do this but you all can write letters to your local councils and MP’s asking for this, as they will always respond to local businesses that employ the electorate in their areas. Every business is popping home delivery on their list of things they do, not to mention the established players like Deliveroo I think this will only increase.

Then we complain about the age demographic. I think this is a tough one to fight. The local Rotary club, Golf club, Cricket club, etc all have the same issue. Maybe we need to tackle this from a different angle, the motorcycle should become the obvious mid-life crisis choice. The customer that’s approaching fifty has probably paid a chunk of the mortgage off, the kids have or are about to leave home. Let’s harness and embrace this and sell the motorcycle as being the cool thing to do in mid-life, certainly a lot cheaper than a divorce and safer than a trip to Tesco.

Motorcycle News runs the five-thousand-mile club. Brilliant to get people on their bikes. But how about a campaign at dealership grass-roots level to introduce someone to two wheels. Maybe take them on a Distinguished gentleman’s ride or just out for a ride on a sunny day.

These are just a few ideas I have running around in my crazy head in these crazy times. Above all keep positive there is still a demand for our products and we must not lose sight of that.

Philip Youles, Chair of NMDA

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