AIMExpo’s Little and Kay Talk Made in America

December 5, 2014
Byron Wilson
Byron Wilson
Associate Editor|Articles|Articles RSS

Byron's sure to be hunched over a laptop after the checkers are flown, caught in his own little version of heaven. Whether on dirt, street or a combination of both, MotoUSA's newest addition knows the only thing better than actually riding is telling the story of how things went down.

A little more than a month after the second annual AIMExpo, organizers are already hard at work planning a bigger and better show for 2015. Recent news indicates there are already 200 exhibitors booked and that a new section of the floor will highlight products Made in America, putting a “spotlight on American companies designing, assembling, or producing the best products in the county.” This is in addition to the work that AIMExpo’s V-Twin Director, Bob Kay, is doing to bring a more robust V-Twin market presence to next year’s show and beyond, and the two efforts dovetail nicely toward creating an even more comprehensive event in 2015.

With the noticeably bigger and better 2014 show still fresh in our minds and these various irons in the fire stoking our interest further, we decided to get Kay and Larry Little, Vice President and General Manager of Marketplace Events Motorcycle Group, on the phone to talk about what dealers, exhibitors and consumers can expect next October.
To get a better sense of where the show’s going, we asked Little about how AIMExpo has grown and developed since the first event in 2013.

AIMExpo’s Bob Kay (left) and Larry Little (right) at the AMA Hall of Fame Reception in Orlando.

“The first year was a great foundational year, we had plenty of room to grow and we did,” Little explained. “We grew this year in all the areas you’d measure by as well. Exhibitor space was close to 44% larger than last year and the actual number of exhibitors was up about 28%.

“From the perspective of what we really think is one of the most important parts of the show, which is the dealers, we saw big growth too. We had about 1800 dealer personnel in 2013 and that number grew to almost 3000 in 2014. That’s a great increase and it’s headed in the right direction, but we still think the full potential is considerably more dealers than that down the road. And we’ll get there.

“The third thing is the consumer side, of course, and that had significant growth. We had about 8000 consumers the first year and we had over 11,000 this year. That’s generated a lot of energy and excitement simply because of all that.”
One element that organizers experimented with in 2014 is the concept of highlighting “American Made” exhibitors after a number of companies came forward with the idea in 2013.

“There weren’t a lot of them,” said Little regarding the companies that presented the initial “American Made” idea. “We didn’t really promote it much because we weren’t sure exactly what they wanted. We had a sign up over their area indicating they were American Made and I think it was a good start. We then started to evolve the idea of ‘American Made’ into ‘Made in America,’ it may sound like the same thing but in our mind it’s a little bit different. I think the key point to make about ‘Made in America’ as an area of the show is that we really want to showcase the ingenuity of American companies.

“One of the greatest examples I can give is the one we highlighted in the press release and that’s GoPro. GoPro is an American company, those guys in California designed the product, they imagined it, and they built it. Its world sourced, so it may not be manufactured in America, but it’s a product that was designed and imagined here. It’s the ingenuity of Americans that we really want to showcase in this section. So there’s a lot of companies that will fall under that banner that don’t necessarily build something or source all of the materials for that in America, but we want to showcase their skill and inventiveness.

“We thought this would be the perfect home for American V-Twin companies and we’re really trying to step up and make a welcoming part of the show for them. I mean it makes all the sense because Biketoberfest is about the same time. This year Bob Kay spent a good portion of his time during AIMExpo at Biketoberfest talking to companies in the marketplace who really want to get back in the mainstream and not be segregated into one area, we think this is a great opportunity to do that. So we want to bring these guys in and let them experience some of the excitement we’re generating and try to put some pizazz back in the marketplace.”

Of course, numerous V-Twin and American-based companies have been present during both years of the show. In terms of the V-Twin market, however, AIMExpo organizers were under equipped to know the needs and concerns of those within the segment. That’s where Kay comes in.

Kay comes with more than 40 years of experience with the V-Twin market. He’s worked as an aftermarket Harley-Davidson distributor in the ‘70s, as General Manager of Biker’s Choice during the ‘90s and most recently with Biker Pros organizing Ultimate Builder bike shows and helping to produce World Championship of Custom Bike Building events. He shared Little’s sentiments about the fit between the “Made in America” focus and increased V-Twin market participation.

“What we don’t want to do is redo what has been done before,” explains Kay. “We want to try and take a fresh approach and I think that’s what the industry is looking for. That in itself is why we’re not trying to create a separate V-Twin section. When you try to make a specific V-Twin section it’s either too small and people don’t get to get involved in it or it’s too big and doesn’t look right. It can really be a logistical nightmare and it really doesn’t make any sense so our approach is to integrate it. We thought the ‘Made in America’ pavilion was the ideal way. And there’s other American companies besides those that service the V-Twin market, so for all those to come together in one place and be able to share concepts, ideas and services is what we’re trying to do. To really create some health in the industry by facilitating some interaction in the industry.”

We asked Kay about his experience this year at Biketoberfest and the reaction of companies and organizers about the efforts to integrate more V-Twin market presence into AIMExpo.

“Initially everybody was a little concerned that we’re trying to relocate activities,” says Kay. “But I explained that we’re only trying to add to the activities. I mean Biketoberfest is an established rally, has been around for years, and it could use a little spark. We hope to work with a lot of vendors that have stopped going to Biketoberfest by creating a more efficient method of being able to visit Biketoberfest but at the same time do a trade show where you can get together with dealers and consumers and the various events going down at AIMExpo. It’s only an hour away and we plan to make it even easier for those participating in Biketoberfest at any level, whether it’s an exhibitor, distributor, manufacturer or consumer. It’s a different experience than anything you’re going to have in Daytona. As people understood that they really began to appreciate what we’re doing.”

Since getting his feet wet at the 2014 show, Kay is already up and running with some big plans for 2015 which make great use of his expertise.

“Of course we’re going to have a bike show,” says Kay. “I’ve already made arrangements for the winner of our bike show to get expenses paid to enter in the World Championship in Germany the following year and our classes will be based on broad platforms, not limited to one particular brand. It’ll be open to any brand as long as you qualify under that platform. That’s always a huge draw and gets people involved at all levels, so we’re doing that.

“We’re looking at what we’re calling a Garage Party section, which will kind of be focused on the chopper subculture that everybody is interested in, from Ducati to Yamaha to Harley-Davidson. Something that appeals to the hipper, younger group of people that are really dedicated to motorcycles. So we’re going to have a whole area dedicated to that with a chopper legends bike show. We’ve got other things planned but they’re not far enough along yet. We’ll have live music, of course. It’ll be a little different. It’ll be more of a garage deal as opposed to the sophisticated rug and all the other stuff we see at the rest of the AIMExpo.”

The coming year promises to be an exciting one for AIMExpo, especially for those in the V-Twin market seeking signs of an invigorated industry.