By Adam Quandt
While new and used unit sales might be a dealership’s bread and butter, there is a different segment running hard through the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the nation — aftermarket parts sales for personal watercraft.
As many businesses scale back — or even temporarily shut down — manufacturers, suppliers and distributors of aftermarket PWC parts and accessories have seen steady, and in some cases, increased business.
“The year started off well, but like most businesses, uncertainty affected our March results,” said Cj Lammers, president of Shortblock Technologies Inc. (SBT). “There has been a huge surge in April and early May as people have more time for projects and as we hit the season, leading to parts orders trending up.”
After a two-week shutdown, production fired back up at California-based Hydro-Turf, with a large emphasis on the aftermarket side vs. OEM.
“We’ve been extremely busy with all of the aftermarket demand,” Hydro-Turf president Arno Olbricht said. “People are home and they’ve got nothing to do, so they’re digging into projects on their machines.”
Olbricht added that it might be difficult to attribute all of the current strength in aftermarket products simply to people just being at home right now, as this seasonal period is a natural time of surge in their aftermarket products.
However, Dave Bamdas, president of RIVA Racing, said the aftermarket product manufacturer and supplier has received more inquiries from current and potential customers than the company has seen in some time.
“Our customer service team is handling questions and other build inquiries from customers left and right,” Bamdas said. “I would say we’re doing the same amount of business for the time of year, with sales being about level with last year, but our communication and inquiries with customers has been through the roof.”
Bamdas said that he believes people will certainly continue to enjoy and modify their PWC as an activity that can easily continue without large crowds of people.
“We’re not backing off at all, just doing our best to prepare for any scenario,” Bamdas added. “We’re especially making sure we’re taking care of our dealers all-around. We’re here for dealers and we’re well stocked as a distributor.”
Pushing forward through continued sales in the aftermarket segment has not come without adaptation to the quickly changing world during COVID-19.
Implementing social distancing in the warehouse and manufacturing facilities, new and increased sanitizing procedures and checks and much more are shaping how business is conducted during the times of COVID-19.
“We’ve adjusted the plant and offices to accommodate social distancing, made masks in-house for employees and provided training and tools for safely conducting business,” Lammers said of SBT. “We’ve added extra sanitizing procedures and checks to protect our staff so that we can all make it through these tough times.
“Customers don’t have access to our showroom, but we provide curbside pickup for all our products. We have stayed open and paid our full staff so far and continue to ship weekdays.”
Despite the two-week shutdown, Hydro-Turf maintained its full staff and continued paying employees through that time.
“It was a slow learning process to start up again, but we implemented a variety of new safety measures to maintain the utmost employee safety at work,” Olbricht added.
Similarly, Bamdas and his RIVA team have adjusted to a new way of working while tackling rising aftermarket sales.
“I see this as a long-term situation,” Bamdas said. “This isn’t going to be a 60- or 90-day thing, so we’re preparing for that.”
At its main headquarters in Pompano Beach, Florida, RIVA has just over 100 employees. Bamdas said that about 40 members of that staff are currently working from home, with the other 60 working onsite in safety-enhanced, socially-distanced environments.
“Even our R&D facility is still working full-time and at full-staff,” Bamdas added. “We’re going full-bore on the aftermarket side, while practicing social distancing and other work-from-home safety aspects.”
Both Hydro-Turf and RIVA are also maintaining relationships with their respective OEM partners, as PWC manufacturers begin to reopen manufacturing facilities and ramp back up on production.
Changing the message
On top of implementing new safety protocols and guidelines to maintain employee safety, while keeping sales going strong, aftermarket parts and accessories manufacturers and suppliers have also altered their marketing approaches due to the coronavirus.
For the most part, marketing strategies have more or less been the same, but companies have had to adapt to using some coronavirus-specific messaging, including highlighting what they’re doing to protect both customers and their employees.
Lammers said that SBT’s marketing has mostly remained unchanged, but they’ve added public-service advertising to pass along the message of safety with their business, as well as promised customer support.
“SBT is still here to support our customers, in an industry that encourages freedom of movement and adventure while still maintaining social distancing,” Lammers added. “We hope that the recent resurgence of the watercraft riding will allow people to have an outlet after being confined for so long. We can all enjoy the water and still remain socially responsible. We hope to run normal hours through the summer to support our customers.”
While primarily working through a distributor base, Olbricht and the Hydro-Turf team works through a strategy of “trickle-down marketing.” Olbricht said they typically rely on marketing directly to distributors and dealers, and lean on those outlets to pass the marketing along to the end customer.
Despite a different market strategy, Olbricht said that Hydro-Turf marketing efforts have also taken aim at a different type of messaging, promoting the fact that the manufacturer is open for business despite the pandemic.
However, the other large pillar of Hydro-Turf’s marketing strategy, sponsorship and race promotion, continues to be on hold due to the ever-evolving coronavirus situation.
Similar to other aspects of the business since the pandemic began, Bamdas said RIVA’s marketing is continuing very strongly.
“We’ve put a little more emphasis on the digital side of things now, but things were definitely heading that way anyway prior to this whole coronavirus thing,” Bamdas said.
RIVA has worked more specifically on the messaging the company sends out with its marketing efforts, making things more applicable to those working on projects while stuck at home.
Most recently, RIVA launched two promotions with messaging specific to the COVID-19 crisis. One is aptly named “Home Project Time,” highlighting all of the different work and projects that can be done in a customer’s home garage. Another is aimed at highlighting the fact that everyone is in this together and the fact the RIVA team is open for business and ready to help. “It has definitely been a challenging environment, but we’re adapting well,” Bamdas said. “We all have to as an industry, to continue pushing forward and be there for our dealers and customers alike.”