Archive for April, 2011

It’s about damn time

April 22, 2011

Harley-Davidson boasts the highest market share of women riders out of all the OEMs, according to Amanda Lee, the company’s PR manager in charge of Outreach audiences — women, young adults, African American, Hispanic and active military. This, of course, is no big surprise given Harley’s long history with women riding its motorcycles.

Of the 235,000 people trained through the company’s Rider’s Edge courses, 35 percent are women. Lee herself is a graduate of Rider’s Edge, as is Claudia Garber, Harley’s director of marketing and product planning.

The Motor Co. is reaching out to women riders with a host of events and marketing efforts. From the now-ubiquitous Garage Parties to this month’s Biker Bootcamp for Women (a full week in Milwaukee immersed in Harley culture), Harley-Davidson is taking an active and aggressive effort to connect with its female customers, existing and potential.

Harley’s idea is to seize upon the growing women rider demographic and help encourage, support and inform those who have taken or are taking the leap into what has traditionally been a male-dominated sport/pastime/industry.

“As more women get into the sport, it’s kind of a contagious thing,” Lee says. “As more women are riding and more women are seeing other women riding, more women are stepping up to the plate and saying, ‘I want to do that.’

“We’re simply throwing fuel on the fire, responding to a movement that’s happening in the industry,” she adds.

The “women riders movement” — not that it’s a formal title or anything — is a relatively new phenomenon. Yes, women have been riding motorcycles, ATVs, personal watercraft and snowmobiles forever, but not in any great number and not in a way that ever attracted much attention from the industry at large.

Even five years ago a female motorcyclist would have been hard-pressed to find riding gear that not only was cut to fit the female form, but was stylish to boot. Again, yes, there was riding apparel, but it wasn’t until Joe Rocket and Icon jumped into the mix that women’s gear looked like it had actually been designed by and for women.

These days, apparel manufacturers know they need a women’s line to even compete.

How about riding on the back? You’ve got to be kidding. Women are finally coming into their own in the powersports industry, and it’s about time. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. But with more women moving into everything from dealership and OEM/aftermarket management to wins on the racetrack, it’s clear: This ain’t the same old boy’s club.

In honor of May’s Women Riders Month, Dealernews puts its focus on the women who help drive this industry, from the pioneers who pushed through gender barriers to those coming into a business that now welcomes them. Even our cover profile highlights Top 100 dealer Donna Coryell and her dealership, Deptford Honda Yamaha. Hers is an inspiring story.

Why is it important to recognize the women in our industry? Because it’s about damn time. Women are more than the “other half”; they bring new perspective and vitality to a business that — truth be told — could use some freshening up. The industry’s history has been drenched in testosterone, and it’s left things a bit, um, ripe.

Indeed, there are many, many women leading the charge at the dealership, in the media, in the aftermarket, at the OEM level and on the racecourse. We’re profiling just a few of them in this issue. Go to www.dealernews.com/women11 to see a running roster of notable femmes and their contribution to our industry. And if you’d like to nominate women for the list, drop us a line at editors@dealernews.com with their names and brief bios. We’d love to add them.

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

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The next customer boom

April 1, 2011

At the time of this writing, oil prices were uncomfortably hovering a hair above $100 a barrel, and premium gas on the West Coast had settled in at about $4 a gallon.

The ongoing conflict in the Middle East (isn’t that redundant at this point?) assuredly means that these prices would likely go up before they’d go down, or so says the analysts.

In fact, federal energy officials say there’s a 25 percent chance those gas prices will average $4 a gallon or more throughout the summer driving season.

Smells a bit like 2008, the last time oil prices were this high. Another flashback moment? How about some of the news headlines starting to pop up across the Internet. This one could have been ripped straight from a 2008 newspaper: “As Gas Prices Rise, So Do Scooter Sales.”

If you’ll remember, scooter sales that year jumped 66 percent the first half of 2008 and eventually settled in at 41 percent higher than 2007. Many OEMs had to play catch-up to meet the demand of all the new two-wheeler commuters. It wasn’t uncommon to hear that dealers just plain sold out of certain models.

That was the year many first-time riders got a taste of two-wheels. Piaggio alone reported that its sales were up about 75 percent the first quarter of 2008. Former CEO Paolo Timoni would later report that many of these new riders had no interest in riding motorcycles, that they were fine on their Vespas and Piaggios.

Of course, with every boom there is a bust, and we all know what happened after the scooter market crashed. One could make a good guess that there’s a metric boatload of noncurrent scooters — from all OEMs, even the new Asian entries — sitting in storage waiting for gas prices to drive people back out of their cars and onto the seats of those waiting machines.

Well, it’s been a long strange two years since the oil and gas spike and attendant scooter rush, but here’s something to think about: If you were one of those dealers who catered to that huge bloom of new riders, what did you do to keep them coming back into your store? Did you convert them into regular customers or did they travel back out the door they came in, and back into their cars after gas prices dropped down to partially ridiculous levels?

So, if the analysts are correct and gas prices continue to inflict pain on most drivers at the pump, there’s a good chance many of those folks will make the switch to two wheels. And not just scooters. High gas prices could likely get people out on motorcycles as well. (It’s odd wishing for high gas prices, isn’t it?)

The question is, if sales do take a jump and more people start riding, are you prepared to service those new customers? What will you do — this time — to keep them coming back into your store? And how do you reach out to potential customers to let them know you’ve got something that can help ease their petrol pain?

It’s conventional wisdom that getting new customers through the front door is one of the most difficult tasks of running a business. Now, with gas prices giving them a little nudge, it’s your chance to welcome them into the powersports family.
Let us know if you were one of those dealers who converted those 2008 scooter riders into loyal customers. Also, drop us a line if you’re cooking up plans to win over the next group of new riders. Send your comments to editors@dealernews.com.

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

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews May 2011 issue.