Interview: F2R’s Guillermo Pajón Talks About the Promising Future for Colombia’s Motorcycle Industry
Earlier this year, Medellín experienced its most successful F2R ever. The most important motorcycle industry event in Latin America drew 80,000 businesspeople and motorcycle aficionados together for four days of commerce, entertainment, learning, exhibits and networking at the city’s Plaza Mayor Convention Center.
Even with the notable absence of several of the Japanese brands — except Kawasaki, which had an impressive presence — this 2023 edition of the Feria de las 2 Ruedas broke all records.
As something of a tradition, just as in prior years, Finance Colombia’s Executive Editor Loren Moss was able to unpack the details and takeaways of this year’s event with founder and organizer Guillermo Pajón. The two analyze the absence of some of the traditional two-wheel powerhouses, along with how the event has evolved and grown over the past several years.
Some may not realize that Pajón’s Prisma Events, the organizer of F2R offers an array of logistics services for events in Colombia throughout the year. For the first time, the discussion expands to the possibilities and offer for international companies and organizations considering holding their next major function in Colombia.
Next year promises even more, and smart cyclists have already marked their calendars for F2R from May 2-5, 2024.
Loren Moss: Mr. Guillermo, good to see you.
Guillermo Pajón: You as well! Nice greeting you, it’s good to see you. Thank you again for joining us, I told [our associate] Jason that you were already a very close friend of ours, that we appreciated you very much. Again, thank you very much for joining us in this 15th version of the fair. How many fairs have you been with us already?
Loren Moss: Wow, I think my first one was almost 10 years ago. My first F2R was in 2015, I think, and I’ve never missed it. I always plan ahead, because of all the trips I have, I always keep that space blocked. I assure you I will be in Medellín for that event. And wow, how impressive, number 15, how you’ve grown. And I think this year there were like 20,000 more people than last year, right?
Guillermo Pajón: Yes. I don’t know if you managed to tour all the pavilions. If you managed to see all the pavilions, logically it is a lot bigger insofar as space occupation, even without these three other very important brands, the Japanese ones that didn’t join us this year because of all that’s going on in the country. They got really scared with the new government, because when we went out to market the fair in 2022, the current Colombian government had only been in power for a month, and these brands got really scared. They said, “we are not going to any events, we’ll wait and see what happens with the country.” But well here we are and, again, thank you so so much for joining us.
Loren Moss: That’s something that’s a really complicated matter. Because I, as a journalist, and our publication is more about the business aspects, and there’s so much uncertainty in the mind of the investor. I’ve seen factory projects postponed. And what do the multinational companies say? They say, “let’s wait, see what happens.” So I hope they gain the confidence to return, but even though Kawasaki already had a stronger presence than before. Benelli Italy, are the ones that are always loyal, like Royal Enfield, we did the tour in the AKT factory in Envigado, where they also make the Royal Enfield; Triumph is also always very strong in the event. And this year I’ve seen there are a lot of new brands, right?
Guillermo Pajón: Of course. Vento arrived. Vento comes from the USA to Mexico and is a brand that I’ve known for 15, 17 years. It’s really strong in Mexico, and they came in full force. Apparently, they opened about six or seven sales points in Colombia, and almost 300 bikes have already been reserved before the month of August, so I think that is a positive impact for the industry.
Suddenly, the space that the Japanese brands left, other brands are going to take it, which can happen when one is not present and a consumer wants to buy a bike and doesn’t see it. But they see another brand. So, in a way, that takes away the potential those brands had. Not to say they aren’t benchmark brands in the world, but there’s a market for every user and for every pocket, as they say.
Loren Moss: It’s ironic. Because I was prepared this year, I saw Honda launched a new model out in the world, called Transalp, which is like the Africa but smaller. It’s a 77 motor. I wanted to buy that, and my wife was also going to buy. She has an ATK, but she wanted to switch to a Suzuki or a Yamaha. So, we go with our wallets ready — and they aren’t even there! Imagine.
Guillermo Pajón: Yeah, yeah. It made an impact. And let me tell you, there isn’t going to be a fair in Brazil, the Feria de las 2 Ruedas in Brazil, which was normally held in October-November. This year won’t be done in Brazil. Brazil is a market that is 80%, as someone explained to me, Honda, and Honda isn’t going to the fair. Therefore, there won’t be a fair. That Brazil situation for the end of this year caught our attention.
Loren Moss: Well at least we know then it’s not just in Colombia, and I hope the market takes up this issue. At least Kawasaki was there, but to see the other traditional Japanese ones — I hope they return. But speaking of countries, India was the guest country this year, if I recall correctly.
Guillermo Pajón: Yes, that’s correct. I think Europe and Asia, especially, are looking at Latin America in a very special way. I think there is a very important development in Latin America, and now we see Peru, Ecuador, and Central America growing quite a bit in the motorcycle industry.
There lies the importance of the Feria de las 2 Ruedas in Colombia, because it becomes equidistant for the Latin American market. I mean, Colombia is in the center of all of the Americas, and that allows the meeting of all the entrepreneurs of Central and South America as a sort of council, and that caught our attention quite a bit.
Because the Brazilian market is very much their own. It’s very protectionist. It has high fees for foreign brands to enter. Because it’s such a big market, they practically handle it all themselves. And they aren’t interested in having a big impact on the outside market.
Meanwhile, for the rest of Latin America — including Argentina now, which also has an interesting range of motorcycles, the same as Mexico — we are seeing high growth in the industry in Central America, Peru, and Ecuador.
So, there lies the importance of the fair and of having had India showing its products. Let’s not forget India has some really good products. The Royal Enfield is Indian, the TVS is Indian, and there are a lot of very high-quality Indian products and spare parts.
They have been really strong in clothing, meaning jackets, too. I don’t know if you saw the Pakistan stands. They are very strong in jackets, gloves. It’s a market that they are finding to be really interesting in Latin America, and that’s why the Feria de las 2 Ruedas has taken this role of being the fair that is gathering all the entrepreneurs of the Americas.
Loren Moss: Going from the global, international market to the local one, something new I saw this year was that you made a space for local entrepreneurs, from Medellín, Antioquia. That was a very interesting thing, some space to promote the local industry. Medellín obviously has its traditional textile industries. Obviously, there are factories here like AKT, like Incolmotos up north. But you guys made a space, and if I recall correctly, this was the first year that you made a space dedicated to small, local entrepreneurs, right?
Guillermo Pajón: We have always had this calling of making space from the social support side of the fair, because a small entrepreneur is going to say, “Look, I can’t pay for the stand, I can’t make it work, I don’t have the budget.” They see it as too unattainable, too superior, when they come across these big companies with very elaborate stands, and a lot of money invested in them.
What did we say to the mayor’s office of Medellín? “Mayor’s office of Medellín, come help us subsidize and contribute to these small entrepreneurs so they can also participate in the fair.” And I’ve got to say, the mayor’s office of Medellín provided money to these entrepreneurs, so they can subsidize their stay at the fair and make themselves visible.
They are small manufacturers. Some are “famiempresas,” as we call them in Colombia, meaning family companies. The man who is working with his wife, the one that is operating a small factory. And in some ways, we’ve seen over time how many of them, who started very small at the fair, have been growing year after year, because the fair opened up a lane for them.
I remember one time, there was a small clothing company that made small bags, and a company like AKT came along and said, “I’m interested in your product, I’m going to buy 5,000 of those.” That boy didn’t know if he should be happy or hide under the table!
Loren Moss: Exactly!
Guillermo Pajón: Because he was, like, “first, I’m glad because I never had an order like that, but, second, I don’t have the capital to produce 5,000 of these.” Because, logistically, a big company is going to ask for it, and first you have to produce it. And to produce it, you have to buy the input material. So he said to me, “look how great! — and at the same time, it’s bad what’s happening to me because I’m not prepared yet as a small entrepreneur to respond to this industry.”
Loren Moss: Good problems. There are good problems and bad problems. That’s a good problem.
Guillermo Pajón: That’s right.
Loren Moss: That was excellent. So, tell me, for next year, in the future, what worries me is that you run out of space. Because success leads to more success. Every year it’s more: There are more companies interested in participating. This year, you took the metropolitan theater. You didn’t have to do that before. So it is still growing — another good problem!
What you are going to do for next year? It’s going to be plenty of space because of all the interest. And you guys have two parts: a part for the industry and a part for the public. It was really good what you changed, that you made an extra route for the public, because there are so many people who want to participate that they are shoulder to shoulder.
I remember last year, it was so full, and it’s good to provide more space, but will there be more space for more companies, factories, the industry companies that want to participate?
Guillermo Pajón: Very good question. There are two things that we are going to do. We spoke with the metropolitan theater, because we were only using the internal side of the theater, and we got the confirmation that we can use the parking spaces, the lobby, and some parts of the theater lobby as a commercial area.
So, we are most likely going to have a larger commercial presence in the metropolitan theater. Not just for academic events or the innovation room, but the outside of the theater as the commercial part. And that will mean asking for permission for the closure of the surrounding streets to make that whole area one single fair, including the access routes, leaving space for parking.
That’s first. The second option is to be more selective. I explained it this way: As you get older, you say, I know what movie I want to watch, I know with what friends I’m going to live my life with, I know what liquor I want to drink. At a restaurant I already know what I’m going to order. You don’t just order anything nor accept everything.
So, we are going to strive to be more selective without disparaging any of the exhibitors, meaning that we will operate with the understanding that the fair is now at a certain level.
I’ll give you an example. There is an exhibitor that was in the white pavilion last year. The white pavilion has carpets and mats. Last year, Suzuki was there, SYM was there, and Harley Davidson and AKT. Very good brands. And this man sets up a stand without any decoration, with nothing special. The representative of Suzuki comes up to me and says, “Look, I don’t think it’s fair that I’m making such a big investment, setting up such a beautiful stand, and next to me there’s this stand so poorly presented that isn’t in par with this fair, which has, on an aesthetic and installation level, a very international presence.”
So, when we say selective, we don’t mean that we won’t allow them to enter. But that we are going to be more demanding when it comes to presenting and being at the event.
Loren Moss: I think that is a good strategy. Especially because there’s a lot of space. There is a place where you have the brands of the motorcycles, and you also always have a space for spare parts and tools and motorcycle jacks and stuff for the workshop. You always have space for jackets and boots and things like that. So, that also helps guests, because if I’m looking for that, maybe I’m going to find it here. If I’m looking for accessories, they are going to be over there. So I think that’s a good strategy. Do you already have the dates for next year?
Guillermo Pajón: Yes. It’s going to be from the May 2-5. Those same four days. At the moment, we are conducting a survey of the exhibitors to see if they want four days for the fair, or if they want five days. We are conducting a survey where we are asking exhibitors if they want it every year, or every two years.
We are conducting a survey of the exhibitors to see if they want to make it one year in Bogotá and one year in Medellín. Or just Medellín. We are doing all of that to have an outlook on what may be the future of the fair.
Bogotá is an interesting place on a user level, but we understand that logistically, Medellín — because of the assembly plants, the number of large companies the city has, and because of all that the city of Medellín generates — has a very strong appeal. But we do want to make agreed-upon and democratic decisions keeping our exhibitors in mind.
Loren Moss: Well, I know that the event is a big source of pride for the paisas [of Antioquia] having it here in Medellín. I imagine they don’t want to lose it, especially to the rolos [from the Colombian capital]. But be it in Bogotá or Medellín, either way, I’m always going to attend.
Can you tell me briefly about Prisma? Because your company is more than F2R. That’s the most famous, but you guys are large event planners, and I imagine there are companies from our multinational readers who think of doing fairs or events in Medellín or Colombia. What services does Prisma offer? Because I know the motorcycle fair is the most famous for the public, but I know you have a very successful company that does more than just the fair, right?
Guillermo Pajón: Yes, we have three business units. One is what we call Prisma’s own events, which is the Feria de las 2 Ruedas, and for over 20 years we’ve been doing another fair, which we started, called Feria Autopartes. That one, maybe next year we will be turning it into another fair.
And there’s a fair that is pending — there’s a date reserved for it already — called Autoshow. Autoshow is a fair similar to the one at SEMA, in Vegas. In Vegas, there’s a fair called AAPEX, which is a fair for spare parts for four-wheeled vehicles, and parallel to that there’s a fair called SEMA, which is the fair where they exhibit everything related to vehicle personalization, tires, tuning. Because the embellishment of vehicles isn’t so much about spares anymore, but rather it’s a fair more dedicated to the user as such.
So, that is one of the divisions of Prisma. Then, Prisma has another division, which is events for third parties. Meaning, we do conferences, provide accompaniment at other fairs for consulting, we do conventions, and some special events like festivals in the cooperative sector. Last year, for example, we did two big conferences. This year we are doing two other really big conferences, which we operate for universities or other entities and organizations in general, for the pharmaceutical sector we also do some conferences.
Then, we have a third division called Prisma Montajes, which makes possible all the installations you saw at the fair. Meaning, there is a separate warehouse, and when someone says we need to set up an event, we, for example, make the installations for Colombia Moda and Colombiatex in everything related to paneling. All things furniture. What you saw, for example, in the press room. All that furniture, all those installations are made by this third Prisma company called Prisma Montajes.
Those are the three business units that our company has.
Loren Moss: Logistics, so that’s very important. You’ve been very kind with your time, so I’m thankful. My last question, if I recall correctly, is how is your Harley Davidson?
Guillermo Pajón: Oh, yeah! I don’t have it anymore. I have other collector bikes that have always caught my eye. The thing is that I used to have a Harley Davidson, a really nice 883. You have a good memory!
So, the thing about the Harley is that the Harley is a bike that you have to take out for a ride, it’s not much of a city bike, because here the traffic jams in the city don’t allow you to have a bike where one can just go for a spin. And really my multiple occupations don’t allow me to be on the hog or in these groups that are riding permanently. But I have really enjoyed collecting a few bikes, especially the personalized and customized ones, which are the ones I like the most and the ones that catch my eye.
Loren Moss: Super. Well, Mr. Guillermo, thank you very much for your time. It is always an honor, and I’m also happy to see the success. The event is a great pride for Colombia, especially for Medellín, and I hope you continue having success as you’ve had so far. It’s a very important thing, and it makes me very happy and proud to attend and to participate as a journalist. So, thank you very much.
Guillermo Pajón: No, again, thank you so so much. Because people like you are the ones that make the event big — make it capable of crossing borders so that we can tell the world, in the middle of all these news that aren’t so good at times, that we are working for the country, that we are working for the good things, that we are generating jobs, that we are generating life, and especially, that we are making things happen. Thank you very very much. I send you my best regards with all my appreciation.
Loren Moss: Best regards — and see you in May 2024 if I don’t see you sooner!
Guillermo Pajón: OK, of course. Best regards. See you later.
Photos: Liliana Padierna