Reaching Powersports Customers with Social Networking

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This story originally appeared in the Dealernews December 2009 issue.

Happy New Year, all. We’ve made it through 2009 and the mad rush of the holiday shopping season and are now edging our way toward Dealer Expo and the great unknown of 2010.

I spent a lot of time online over the holidays (possibly too much) frequenting the social networking site Facebook, obsessively checking my e-mails, perusing various dealer and other industry-related websites. Along with figuring out that I need to get out more, I noticed that a lot more dealerships are embracing the online world.

Facebook pages. E-mail newsletters. E-commerce sites. Websites that are more than a store’s cyber-billboards. It seems that many more powersports retailers are starting to grasp the possibilities of the online world — but not all just yet. In fact, it’s going to be a long slog up the learning curve for the bulk of dealers. But the small empirical slice I saw looked promising.

Why is this so exciting for me? For one, I’m in a demographic that straddles the divide between the digital natives who have grown up surrounded by and regularly using technology and those whose VCR clocks (those who still have VCRs) will forever be flashing 12:00. I’m sold on the capabilities of technology, from the ease of communication to the proliferation information. I’m also a firm believer in reaching outside our comfort zones to move ahead, which for many people could mean learning to program the VCR.

On the Facebook front I saw that many of the people I’m friends with or businesses that I’m fans of (FB lingo) were using the power of the social networking site to announce holiday sales and communicate directly with customers. It’s an interesting medium that should be handled with subtlety — it is a site for socializing — and most of the examples I saw took a pretty easygoing approach.

Beartooth Harley-Davidson, a Top 100 dealer in Billings, Mont., uses the site to highlight some of its current eBay auctions and posted a link to a special spot on its website where customers could create a Powersports Gift Registry that they could then publish directly to Facebook and MySpace — allowing customers to create an online wish list that they can share with everybody in their social networking circle. 

E-mailwise, I’m getting an increasing number of newsletters from dealers and vendors alike that actually entice me into opening them and reading the content. One good one comes from the Harley-Davidson dealerships own by Maurice Slaughter (our September 2009 cover dealer.) It carries all kinds of interesting information about happenings at his string of H-D stores in addition to bits about sales and discounts. Another good newsletter comes from Corrazo, a company that manufactures armored riding gear aimed at scooterists. It’s engaging, entertaining, easy on the eyes and educational — all without sounding like a sales pitch for the company’s cool products. Good stuff.

It seems that many dealers have been slow to embrace e-commerce selling, and I’d really like to know why some stores don’t jump into this. Malcolm Smith just launched a redesigned website (www.malcolmsmith.com) for his Riverside, Calif., dealership — the 2009 Top 100 Dealer of the Year — that features online sales as a major feature on the site. It’s a pretty easy-to-navigate setup and is worth checking out.

This month in his “Selling Online” column, Todd Shafer explains various e-commerce applications that allow your dealership to sell outside of your store’s main website. He details the application Payvment, which is a storefront widget for your store’s Facebook page. His main point, summed up nicely with this quote, “A Facebook storefront and a widget on your blog put a few more hooks in the water,” is to look for new revenue streams wherever you can find them. In other words, reach outside your comfort zone.

In “Out of My Mind,” Mike Vaughan takes this idea head-on and explores the possibilities of setting up shop in your local Costco. Sound strange? Maybe not. According to Vaughan, customer demographics for the big-box warehouse store correlate strongly to those recently identified in the MIC Owners Survey. Again, don’t focus too narrowly on the big-box thing and look at the bigger picture Vaughan is trying to paint — among Costco’s 40 million-plus cardholders, there are likely quite a few buyers interested in a new motorcycle, scooter, ATV or PWC.

I’d be very interested in finding out what you’re doing to reach out to your existing and future customers. Let us know at editors@dealernews.com.

Dennis Johnson
Editor-in-Chief
dennis.johnson@dealernews.com

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