Opinion: Marketing, lobbying started during pandemic must continue for industry to survive

Stranded for days at a camp in the Adirondacks, four of us conned Paul into being our designated driver, and took a Flxible HL100 into Lake Placid to stalk BEER.

Paul sipped soda while we hydrated. Waddling onto the bus, we headed back to camp. Halfway up a steep hill, stomped for a downshift, the throttle pedal stuck in afterburner. Paul yanked that sucker up with his hand, the Detroit Diesel 6-71 quit, and we were stranded, in the dark, with a frozen injector.

The good news was that several of us knew how to effect a temporary repair. The bad news was we were hydrated.

We lit a road flare for light, managed to get the valve cover off, fumbled around till we found the reluctant injector and used a dime to loosen it from the rack. 

Fired that puppy up and headed back … on five cylinders. 

Underlying problems

Clever, huh? 

Two days later (now dehydrated), we piled campers into that bus and drove it (in convoy) to Baltimore … on five cylinders. 

Our boss needed the Flx to take a group to Colorado, so we loaded up and headed West … on five cylinders. Our garage was in Colorado, so we could fix it there.

Temporary repairs are great, and often get us out of binds, but we shouldn’t mistake them for solving the underlying problem. A two-stroke was balanced enough to run with a dead cylinder, but it doesn’t do the engine any good, and progress is painfully slow.

A permanent fix (replacing the injector) could have been done very quickly, but real men don’t need six cylinders.

Scrambling to survive

Our industry is in that position now. We’re doing a bunch of patching and scrambling just to survive, and it’s gratifying to see everyone pulling together, writing and calling legislators, supporting trade organizations and letting the public know what we’re about. Lots of energy and creativity.

Once the survivors slog through this mess, we need to look for permanent solutions to some of the problems exacerbated by the coronavirus.

Many of the things operators and organizations are doing now in terms of building relationships and calling attention to what we are about are both great and overdue. Once this sorts out, we need to keep up the digital engagement and maintain consistent contact with our communities and politicians. 

If we stop there, though, it’s like driving on five cylinders forever.

Riding on coattails

On another front, we, as an industry, have not consistently paid what it takes to tell our story. Membership dues for UMA, ABA, IMG and the state associations, et al., are not sufficient to pay for the kind of marketing and lobbying we desperately need. 

Some operators resist joining at all, and ride on the fiscal coattails of you who participate.

In large part, we’ve depended on suppliers to maintain our current level, through sponsorships and participation in shows. 

Several things to bear in mind: Vendors are suffering, too, and even in good times, we can’t expect them to carry more than their share.

Quality costs

We can’t afford national TV campaigns, but we must do better in the future.

Pro-bono work and visibly supporting charities can help, but at some point we need to focus energy on staying united and finding a way to raise — and efficiently use — money to tell our story and improve our image. 

We were shrinking before the pandemic, for a number of reasons, many not our fault. We don’t need more organizations, but we need to find a way to speak with a unified voice, and we need to be willing to pay for it. Quality costs.

Rare exceptions

In fall 1979, Eagle introduced the Model 10 and needed someone to tour the U.S. with the 6V92-powered prototype, showing it off to all the Trailways affiliates. 

As Eagle’s top salesman, I was picked. (OK, their ONLY salesman, and single, so no one cared if I disappeared for months.)

Ready to depart, striking a manly pose (left over from a previous column), I stood behind the coach with the staff when someone pointed out that one tail light wasn’t lit. Several multimeters and test lights later, our crack engineering team surrendered and ran an extra (unprotected) wire across the back of the bus, above the engine, and off I went.

Thousands of trouble-free miles later, the bus and I returned to the factory. (OK, there was one disturbing incident when the engine quit during a wintry sunset within sight of Custer’s last stand.)

Several months later, we sold the prototype to an operator in Racine, Wisconsin, and that temporary wire was still there. Dick has passed away now, and the statute of limitations has run out, so I can confess with impunity. But this was the RARE incident where a temporary fix survived the long haul. 

Wonder where that jewel is today.

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