After reading the recent thread about Lance and the SYM distributorship, I have to say that I feel bleak about the future for scooter enthusiasts over here, and for SYM in particular.
Things weren't perfect in the bike world 10 or 15 years ago, but at least we had a stable system that worked for most people. Dealers tended to be older, well-established businesses with a good understanding of the powersports market. Even the worst of dealers generally had at least one decent, experienced mechanic on staff. The majority of sales were of machines manufactured by either Harley or the Japanese big three, backed by large, well-oiled distribution and parts networks. There was enough competition to keep everyone fairly honest, but not enough to dilute the market.
Fast forward to the present, and you've got a real sewage pit, especially in the scooter segment. The market has been flooded with cheap Chinese imports of inconceivably inconsistent quality, sold in many cases by fledgling importers with little or no parts support. The market is rife with one-horse "dealerships" with amateurish attitudes, insufficient capital, and inadequate technical support. Junk machines sold at lost leader prices have fostered a destructive price-is-king attitude amongst many consumers. The average scooter purchaser tends to be new to powersports, less affluent, and less technical than a typical motorcyclist.
It seems to me, that the end result is bad for everyone.
At the consumer level, people need to educate themselves both about the products they are buying, and the economics of the sport as a whole. Forums are flooded with clowns who purchase junk chi-scoots for as little as a quarter of the going rate for a quality machine, write rave reviews about their bikes before they've even torn the protective plastic off, and are then surprised when they discover that they aren't up to the rigors of commuting. They buy from former flower shops and grocery stores, but expect Honda-quality dealer support. They have unreasonable performance expectations for their underpowered machines, most of which were built to carry tiny, flyweight Asians through crowded inner-city areas at speeds of under 40 miles per hour. Many of them modify their machines, often in truly idiotic ways, and feel that it's everyone else's fault but theirs when the bike inevitably implodes. They purchase machines from out-of-state dealerships sometimes for the sake of the smallest of extra discounts, without thought for how they will obtain after-sales service. They object to dealers making even the most meagre profit margins, are ruthless about buying grey market parts from shady overseas sellers, and then they complain when local dealers are forced to shutter their doors. They expect top-drawer support from small distributorships who are desperately trying to break into a large, complex powersports market, ignore extremely reasonable offers of help, and then when their inflated expectations aren't met, they make rude, inaccurate, and counterproductive comments on public social media webpages, further sabotaging the efforts of the distributors to move their businesses to the next level. In the process, they shoot themselves in the foot, by ruining the resale value of their own scooters.
At the dealer level, experienced shops welcome the opportunity to get new customers into the service department, knowing that happy service customers spend more $$$ on accessories, and lead to repeat sales when it's time to upgrade. In contrast, the new breed of scooter dealer is a hobbyist businessman, often trying to establish themselves with little or no understanding of the complexities of running a powersports dealership. Meanwhile, they focus on selling machines at cut-throat prices, where the profit margins are narrow and the prospect of repeat business is low. They place a higher priority on marketing than they do on running a quality service organization, which leads to counter-productive behaviour like refusing to service products purchased from other stores. Because they don't have the sort of capital it takes to do things right, they jump in bed with fly-by-night distributors, who leave them carrying the can when the parts supply line evaporates. Is there any wonder that they are dropping like flies?
At the distributor level, it's got to be very hard to justify investing the millions of dollars it takes to emissions and safety certify a new brand and launch a comprehensive dealer network, when cowboys like the Carter Bros and others have turned the market upside down. Upstream, manufacturers want to see their distributors commit to large product quantities that support economies of scale. Meanwhile, constantly changing model lines, especially with the cheaper Chi-scoots, make inventory control and parts distribution a nightmare. On the downstream side, dealers carry large operating costs and punishing finance charges, in a very tough market. In return, they expect some level of loyalty and exclusivity from their distributors. It's extremely difficult to operate a successful dealership in a market where parts are freely available for less than dealer cost via eBay, and especially so if the distributor bypasses their own dealers, and sells direct to the consumer. This type of activity sets customers against dealers and dealers against distributors, further complicating business relationships.
At the manufacturer level, higher-quality Taiwanese (and even the better Chinese) factories have a real challenge ahead if they are to differentiate themselves from the chop shops that have already flooded the market with inferior merchandise, and educate consumers about the need to pay reasonable prices if they want reasonable quality. They also have to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to finding quality distributors to carry their products, or invest further millions in establishing their own regional distributorships, often in countries with unfamiliar cultures, business rules, and legal climates. All of this in an unpredictable business climate where North Americans rush to buy economical vehicles willy-nilly every time that gas prices go up a notch, and switch back to monster SUV's every time they inch back down again.
At every level of business in North America, selling a few thousand machines per year to what is essentially a frivolous, hobbyist market must seem like an exercise in futility, compared to the relative ease of selling millions to knowledgeable consumers in mature two-wheel transportation markets in Europe and Asia.
We've got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot, or SYM, with some of the best scooters in the market, is going to simply pack their bags, and return to markets where they already get their fair share of respect.