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Interview – eCommerce, RevZilla and the Motorcycle Industry

Earlier this fall, a friend of mine and fellow founder in the moto industry asked if I’d do a Q&A for Dealer News Magazine. It was published surrounding October’s AIME Expo in Las Vegas.

Thanks for the opportunity to reflect on the current state of business in moto, Eric Anderson.

We’ll always have that Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Milan in the early twenty-teens. Remember, they stuffed me randomly into 28B next to you? You didn’t fit and neither did I. I still think you are as amazing as you are ridiculous.

Below is the full interview. It can be found online in its full form here (page 68).

Also, the views are my own. I’m not representing RevZilla leadership or ownership on this one.

=== BEGIN INTERVIEW ===

DN: Anthony Bucci says he was always a tech guy with a side hustle. “I have always been a brand and retail geek,” explains the RevZilla founder, serial entrepreneur and king of the online product videos. “There is just something inherently fascinating about the emotions and decision-making of consumers interacting with brands. It’s probably because I’m a sucker for a great story.” We are suckers for a great story, too. We had the opportunity to ask Anthony what he sees happening in the powersports world and just like one of his legendary YouTube videos, he was on point and chock full of insights.

DN: How has e-commerce affected the powersports industry… and the riding customer?

AB: Since the mid-1990s, eCommerce has affected customer expectations worldwide. Speed, price and selection have become table stakes in an arms race which, in some industries, has led everyone to the bottom. The customer expects more for less, generally — the benchmark is Amazon, which, unlike nearly every other business, is playing a zero- sum game. They have zero cost of capital and no current need for the healthy economics other companies live by. Good luck differentiating, beating or even competing with the ‘Zon in any category that is a utilitarian or less-considered purchase. Unfortunately other than verticalized brands and specialty categories, the eCommerce game is rapidly approaching maturity, now 20+ years post-dotcom inception.

All that considered, the US powersports industry is roughly 90% passion and 10% transportation. It’s primarily driven by a love for a sport that also happens to stand on the shoulders of highly considered and often expensive purchases. Bikes, parts, gear and accessories are not cheap and are often emotional purchases, as well. Powersports is specialty or “enthusiast” retail at its finest, which is one of the last defensible bastions against big discount players, including Amazon.

The industry’s moat, online and offline, is that the knowledge of how, what and when to buy things matters a lot in terms of happy and safe riding. Riders can always use a helping hand, online and off, if it eases the pain of not knowing what they really need. Alleviating that customer pain is the service that all retail, including eCom, can provide that creates value for the customer, earns their dollars, pulls the sale from Amazon and keeps customers loyal over time.

Great eCommerce that will stand the test of time will succeed the same way great dealers will stand the test of time, by being service businesses that facilitate their customers’ joy of riding by supporting them every step of the way. Customers have been trained to expect more generally, but within our industry they also expect knowledge, service, accuracy and customer care. If we don’t provide it, why wouldn’t they just buy from Amazon? I would.

DN: Have customer “standards in gear” been raised above where brick & mortar dealers had established quality/comfort levels?

AB: I’d say the customer expectations have greatly increased. Forums, social media, YouTube, customer service, eCommerce companies and brands have generally demystified potential gear purchases through expanded choice and customer education. I’d like to think my work at RevZilla was a part of helping customers evolve their gear thinking from “This one on the rack fits fine for today” to “What product is the right solution for my riding style, climate, budget, fit and safety needs?” and “Who are the reputable brands and why do they do what they do?”

In short, I think the loftier bar today is one part the evolution of knowledge creation and sharing in moto and one part the same evolution happening in all other categories of researched purchases, online or off. Customers that care are pretty savvy. It’s a virtuous cycle that benefits both the customer and the manufacturer because everyone has more information at their fingertips.

That brings standards up from both ends of the equation. The brands can’t hide or fake it and will be held accountable if they are not delivering on their promise.

DN: What’s the next big thing? Amazon? Mobile mechanics? Pre-owned bikes delivered to your doorsteps?

AB: Amazon is here and may never leave, so it does not qualify as the next big thing.

I believe the next big things in moto will be continued consolidation of customer attention, where retailers will continue to act like media and media will continue to try to evolve their monetization model to be more like retailers.

Manufacturers are also going to need to figure out how to provide more bike for the dollar while simultaneously finding a Cupid’s arrow for new riders that will actually stick. I don’t like the negative new bike purchase trends of the past two years and we all know the Boomers are aging out and have been.

On the tech front, I don’t see a need for a crypto token in moto, but I do see an evolution of customer expectations of buying everything, including bikes, in the most immediate, direct and frictionless way possible. Who’s going to do the Tesla biz model of bikes? I’m sure someone, but I hope it has a motor, not a battery. I still want to feel it, hear it and smell it.

DN: How can brick & mortar dealers do a better job on PG&A? Is that a never-ending battle?

AB: Be the best for your local customer. It’s a service business. Offer amazing service. Engage your local riders and become the hub for their continued enjoyment of the sport. Be the center of the local riding community. Listen to your customers’ pain and figure out how to alleviate it. Be the best in all the ways you can control. Know your customers.

Help your customer find the right product and then incentivize them to order it from you by adding value to the transaction in the form of a future relationship, not just a discount under the cheapest online price. Remember, eCom companies don’t just have websites. They have tech platforms that they enhance and optimize every single day. It’s the backbone of the business. It is the business. The traffic is higher, but the loyalty is lower than what a great brick & mortar dealer can deliver when focused on customer needs and customer pain.

Don’t play the eCom game, play the game you can win. Deliver joy and help to create love for your PG&A department. It’s the same equation as your dealership. It’s an old-school equation people still appreciate.

DN: Do brick & mortar chain stores like Cycle Gear raise the bar for “More of the Right Stuff?”

AB: As an owner of Cycle Gear by way of my stake in Comoto, I hope it continues to evolve in that direction. Before we became part of the same umbrella, the great team at Cycle Gear was working uphill against, in my opinion, mis-optimized inventory and a lack of operational support systems for a long time. My hope is the local Cycle Gear can be more of what I described earlier and less like the model of having the cheapest possible “house” brands stacked wall to wall, which is what we saw 5 years ago.

Great riders who want to help other riders have been the backbone of Cycle Gear for 40+ years. I believe the current owners, including myself, are trying to arm them with the right tools and untie that hand that someone else forced behind their back. If we can do it, everyone should be better off, starting with the riders in those communities and the staffs at those stores.

DN: Would a universal retailers association of all types of dealers benefit the industry? Should MIC offer a membership category for e-commerce retailers… and if they did, would RevZilla join?

AB: I think there is a lot of benefit in shared knowledge at all levels done appropriately. I can’t speak for current (RevZilla) management, but I personally see the value in it even if the only output is enhancing the industry’s collective ability to keep people enjoying the sport. I think the eCom guys have always been sidelined and that has been a missed opportunity. We (online players) see customer sentiment nationally, immediately and at scale which in my opinion can act as a powerful leading indicator for the industry.

DN: How can we — Dealernews, MIC, RevZilla, Comoto — raise the “tide” to oat all retail boats in powersports?

AB: Riding and bike sales are the beating heart of the industry. If people aren’t riding or buying motorcycles, businesses can do things right and still not be able to overcome that headwind. I believe that more natural consolidation may occur, fortunately, or unfortunately. I also think more of the leading brands that have relationships with their customers apart from the manufacturers need to work together to add value, enhance the customers’ experience and decrease the friction (and potentially cost) of owning a new bike. And that’s most important of all, especially if it’s a first bike.

DN: Do you see Millennials beginning to riding motorcycles soon… or do we need to wait until the next generation to try again?

AB: Millennials are a product of many things, but what they are not is the 1950s or 1960s male. They just don’t look at motorcycles the same way. They see life differently and in some cases through an understandably pessimistic lens. Riding needs to become more accessible for them and there will have to be something — a bike, a movement — which makes it more culturally relevant, accessible and cool, in a broader sense.

I don’t have a crystal ball. I know many, if not all, of the manufacturers, have been trying to crack this for more than a decade. My biggest current fear is what happens if we see another recession in the next 1 to 3 years? We could see an accelerated culling of businesses that have not found stability in the lagging new bike sales of the last 24 months. I hope not.

I’m an optimist. I think the powersports industry will figure it out, but when it does stabilize, like many things, the norms of then, will not be the norms of today. #fingerscrossed

DN: Is bigger better in this industry? What’s too big? Parts Unlimited? Tucker? Amazon? Was RevZilla/Cycle Gear the beast that awakened the Amazon mega monster to powersports opportunities?

Size and scale matter in every business. There is a value to big, just as there is a value to the smaller company’s ability to shift, change and execute more quickly. It’s all tradeoffs. Outside of Amazon, profitable revenue growth can cure many things, but we do run the risk of big companies feeling like they can get away with being “evil” here and there or potentially biting off too much and getting sideways. We’ve seen both in our industry in the past decade. It cycles, no pun intended.

Regarding Amazon, they have been “woke” (speaking Millennial for a second) for more than a decade, nearly two. Bezos is a terrifying super genius. Motorcycle eCom Anthony fears, hates but respects him. Business Founder Anthony thinks he is amazing in a way that few have ever been. I’d like to think RevZilla’s presence staved Amazon off in a tenuous time, post-recession, when they could have siphoned the lion’s share of online sales very quickly while offering much less service, knowledge and content value add, but probably with the same price. That mass-market online consolidation, which can crush the manufacturing and retail landscape forever, has happened in so many other categories.

In my heart, I do believe we “did good, by doing good” in the sense that our conversation with all of our brands was always, “How do we do more for the customer together in the medium to long-term and allow riders to get more for their moto-dollar?” I think our model, with the support of so many brands that were willing to think new-school, allowed the industry to raise the bar for what’s expected for online shopping in moto and create avenues for more customer satisfaction and value beyond “Well, it’s cheap and Prime-able.”

Healthy competition always benefits consumers in the long term and transparency for consumers is only increasing. The same things apply to Comoto and the other larger players at this point. There is nowhere to hide if big guys decide to stray from their brand promises just as the discount mass market of Amazon, Walmart/Jet and the rest is always ready to pounce.

DN: What are your thoughts on Harley-Davidson’s stock situation, introduction of smaller models like e-bikes, the FXDR street fighter and the Pan American Adventure model?

AB: Try new things until you can get your balance sheet healthy and stabilized while still trying to figure out what’s going to get the Millennial off the couch, or iPad for that matter, and riding a new (or used) bike. Not evolving and challenging your accepted norms is giving up, even for the Bar and Shield. I applaud the Live Wire, small cc bikes and other jolts to the expected HD approach.

DN: Would you share what you are thinking of doing next?

Right now I’m kissing lots of frogs in an effort to be openminded to what next large opportunity may move me – in or out of moto. No good kisses to report yet. In the interim, I am angel investing and advising a handful of companies while also doing some non-profit work with the Tony Hawk Foundation and pro bono exec coaching. I’m having the most fun helping founders and CEOs grow and intermittently jotting down some of my leadership nuggets on my blog.

The other half of the time is a prolonged moment to enjoy my wife and young family in a way that was completely foreign while leading RevZilla. The business always came first, until one day it didn’t. Reflecting on one’s lifestyle while transitioning into a very different one generates great perspective. A little bit of space also allows you to finally appreciate what you have created along with all the amazing people who did it with you. The goal is still the same. Always keep moving forward but be able to look back fondly.

“Anthony’s opinions in this article are his own and he’s made it clear he’s not speaking on behalf of RevZilla management or the board.”

=== END INTERVIEW ===

That was like giving birth, right? You get a gold star for finishing it.

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