2013 International Motorcycle Show, San Mateo: Part 4 – The Show


( continued from Part 3 – The Demo Rides )

A Love Affair…And A Rant
I really enjoyed attending and photographing the Progressive International Motorcycle Show in San Mateo this year. However, having enjoyed the show for the past three years, I couldn’t help but notice it seems to have downsized a bit. I remember when there were additional halls of the Expo Center that were full of vintage bikes, a stunt bike exhibition in the front parking lot, and an entire wing of affordable accessories. I was told by an exhibitor that it is difficult to attract as many exhibiting companies as there used to be when the bulk of the accessory business now goes to online retailers. Personally, I wouldn’t blame this on a shift in the retail landscape, I would offer that it is industry leadership that needs to be improved. But ultimately, it will take everyone in the motorcycling community to support these shows if we want them to exist in the future. And that means us, the riders.

The good news is that I photographed a sea of bikes in the parking lot Saturday, and the show even seemed well attended Friday evening. I was also happy to see a large section presented by The Motor Cafe, a local dealer from Sunnyvale. But where was the participation from other Bay Area dealers? Where was GoPro, who is headquartered in San Mateo? Or Kali Protectives, one of the most interesting players in the helmet space, also a local company? And did I miss something, or where was Zero Motorcycles, arguably the most interesting new bike manufacturer, and also a Bay Area company? It’s easy to say that these and other companies just decided not to participate—for budget reasons or other priorities. But I would suggest that the show management should make it a strategic imperative for these companies to attend, because of the incredible business opportunity it represents for their businesses, and for the industry as a whole.

In my humble opinion, it seems that some things could be done to ramp up the show for the good of the industry stakeholders and the motorcycling community at large. Here are a few ideas from someone who is not from within the industry, offered with respect, and for what they’re worth:

Learn to Ride
I would encourage the show to adopt a robust “Learn to Ride” program sponsored by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Why not offer a discount on enrollment to any MSF course by a show attendee that equals the cost of a 3-day show pass? It would be a great way to encourage prospective or even experienced riders to attend the show. Give the MSF or local schools booth space for free in order to make it happen.

Conference Sessions
Offer conference sessions in a separate hall that provide educational opportunities to attendees. I could envision a seminar by an expert from GoPro on how to get the best ride videos, or a talk by Doc Wong on how to get your back in shape for adventure rides, or a talk by Brian or Michael from Destination Highways on the right way to plan a route. It would be a great way for exhibitors to talk to larger groups of attendees and for attendees to get great information. And this needs to be in a separate hall, not on the main stage where it is too loud with too many distractions.

Keith Code’s California Superbike School
With the San Mateo show being only a two-hour ride from Infineon or Laguna Seca race tracks, why don’t you create a partnership with this famous riding academy that gives Keith a booth at the show and, in turn, partner to host a demo day at one of the tracks? The show could draw attendees for the whole weekend with a three-day show pass and one-day track pass to watch, or ride. I bet riders would come from all over the West to attend a full weekend of motorcycle activities if it included the excitement of riding.

Point/Counterpoint Panel Sessions
Remember those wickedly funny Saturday Night Live skits that parodied 60 Minutes’ Point/Counterpoint? The reason they were so infamous was not just because they were funny, it was because people like to observe conflict. I’d like to see a serious panel discussion that had a member of the California Highway Patrol, a 15,000+ mile/year freeway commuter, and a “loud pipes save lives” biker all discussing the merits and best practices of lane splitting. By encouraging discussion about the elephants in the room, the show would drive attendee engagement, and probably raise safety awareness too.

Where is motorcycling’s Warren Miller?
The ski industry has Warren Miller’s films to answer the question, “Why do people love skiing?” Where is motorcycling’s Warren Miller? How about a screening of On Any Sunday, Cycles South, or clips from The Great Escape or The Long Way Round? Looking at YouTube, there are many talented moto-filmmakers out there (and even more that could use some more talent). Why doesn’t the show get GoPro to sponsor a contest with big prize money around the theme, “Why We Ride.” The finalists could be shown at the 12 shows around the country and the attendees could vote onsite for the winner.

You Meet The Nicest People
Especially after the recent episode in New York, motorcycling could use a boost of good will in the local media around the country. Could the show offer a poker ride on Friday before the show in each city to benefit a national charity? If done right, it could be a good story for local news media which would help promote the show while taming motorist angst against our breed.

What The Show Really Needs
But aside from specific ideas for the show, I offer that what attendees are really looking for is…
– To do something
– To learn something
– To enjoy something
– To belong to something
– To share something

You tell me!

Photos from the Show
Okay, okay…so that’s enough of my rant. Here are more photos from this year’s show (roll-over photos for captions or click for full-screen mode):

Final Thoughts from This Industry Outsider
I’m the first to admit, what the Hell do I know about the motorcycle industry? It’s easy to offer ideas from the outside of an industry looking in without knowing the history, business realities and political struggles that are faced by the show organizers. Although the ideas above come from 30+ years as a marketer, they may well have been tried and discarded as failures years ago. To the show management Advanstar, I commend you for putting on a well-run show. And to Progressive, for showing leadership in this category, you deserve your number one spot. But if the intent is for all boats to rise in this industry, I encourage everyone to achieve new levels of leadership. And to consider doing this through even deeper partnerships and increased participation from all industry stakeholders. Carving up the same pie into different sized pieces should not be your goal. Growing the pie for all to benefit from should be your aim. The downsizing of the show does not go unnoticed by the attendees. I heard from more than a few people that the show is suffering from being smaller and with the same features—more or less—year after year. What I am hearing is apathy from the attendees, not for the sport, but for the show. It’s time to consider what the industry impact would be if these shows did not exist, and decide to do something about it before it is too late. To that aim, I wish you all the best. Ride On. ::

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