Jessica Prokup owns Yellow Devil Gear Exchange, a motorcycle gear consignment store in Long Beach, Calif. She previously worked as editor of RoadBike Magazine and served as director of Emerging Market Communications for the MIC’s Discover Today’s Motorcycling. She also has worked as a Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCoach, teaching at schools in Long Beach and Los Angeles. Prokup specializes in reaching female and Millennial consumers, and recently moderated a panel discussion at Dealer Expo 2012 on reaching this next generation of riders. This is the full version of an excerpt that appeared in the Dealernews April 2012 issue.
Dealernews: When researching the topic for the panel discussion, what about the Millennial generation surprised you?
Jessica Prokup: I was surprised when I read that the National Retail Federation Student Association study, “Shopping Trends Among 18- to 25-Year-Olds,” found that more than 68 percent of the 18 to 25 demographic prefers to shop for things like apparel and footwear in stores rather than online. Stores like Urban Outfitters and Topshop have a very strong web presence, and I assumed that more Millennials were doing their shopping through online channels like social media and Web stores. As the owner of a brick-and-mortar store, it was heartening to hear evidence that young people are still interested in seeing merchandise and trying it on before buying.
DN: What were some of the major themes that surfaced during the panel talk regarding Millennial customers and the motorcycle biz?
JP: In terms of Millennial customers and the motorcycle business, the major theme for our panel was authenticity. When Millennials walk into a dealership, or take the time to participate in a dealership’s social media platform, they want to deal with someone who genuinely cares about the product and the experience. They want to feel enthusiasm not only from the staff, but also in the general environment of the business. If you’re just trying to sell product with no passion behind it, you’ll lose their interest quickly. And they hate a hard sell.
In that same vein, our panel also talked about the importance of genuine interaction. Millennial customers want to know that you’re interested in who they are, what they want, and what they have to say. In store, you can start by listening — ask questions, pay attention to the answers, and use that information to serve your customers as individuals. Since many Millennials are also likely to be new riders, it’s incredibly important that you get as much info as you can to help them find the right product fit. Unlike your older customers who might walk in the door with their minds set, determined to “beat” you at the traditional “game” of selling, young consumers are more open to getting your input — if they feel like you’re actually listening to them.
Also, when you’re interacting with Millennials online — which is a requirement, not an option — you should be actively responding to their input. Derek Jones and Troy Hopper from Iron Pony Motorsports gave a great example: If you post a photo of a bike on your Facebook page and ask what your customers think of it, don’t just sit back and let the posts pile up. Join the conversation and respond to what your customers are saying. If Millennials don’t feel like there’s a genuine person behind the outreach, they’ll dismiss you as a faceless company and move on.
DN: What sort of things were discussed about employing Millennials in the motorcycle biz? JP: With Millennial employees, our panelists felt that it’s crucial to keep them engaged and challenged. This new generation of employees, for the most part, is interested in taking on responsibility. They want to feel like they’re making a real contribution and, conversely, have opportunities for their own growth and achievement. Involve them in decisions about various aspects of the business, and find pieces they can be responsible for — like social media! The staffer who’s glued to his phone, posting on his own Facebook page, could be doing Facebook outreach for your store instead. Millennials are much more comfortable with social media than your older staffers, and they’ll have a natural affinity for engaging others. Use their energy and input to help you reach younger consumers.
DN: What do you see are some of the major differences between your younger and your older customers?
JP: One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed between younger and older customers is that young people almost never shop alone. I think there are two main reasons for this: 1. Younger people are often shy in unknown territory, and 2. They make a lot of decisions based on input from their social network.
Younger customers almost always walk in with a friend or significant other. I tread carefully in these situations, because I know that, in the final decision, the friend’s opinion is way more important than mine. I try to get an idea of what the buyer is looking for, help them locate things in the store, and offer a few tidbits of information that will help in the search (and establish my credibility). Then I back off and let them handle things on their own for a while. When they’re talking and laughing, enjoying their shopping, I know they’re getting comfortable and are more open to input from me. Even if they don’t find something to buy that day, they’ll tell their friends they had a good experience — often through social media channels, which means I get great word of mouth in a completely organic way.
I’ve also noticed that younger people seem a little less price-driven than my older customers. Sure, they may have a smaller budget, but price doesn’t seem to be the bottom line for them the way it is for many of my Boomer customers. (Though the focus on price is partly due to Yellow Devil being a consignment store.) In our panel discussion, Mark Buche of the MIC pointed out that many Millennials are interested in buying quality goods that will function well and last a long time. I’ve found that these customers really are open to making an investment, and they’re much less likely to compromise than older customers. I’ve had middle-aged buyers walk out the door with gear that’s “close enough” to what they were looking for, but younger buyers will wait until they find exactly the right fit, particularly when it comes to style.
DN: What do you do businesswise (marketing, advertising, merchandizing, etc.) to reach the younger customer?
JP: When it comes to Millennial consumers, the best place to communicate with them is where they spend a lot of time talking: on the web. I do almost all my marketing via my website, Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, Google and email newsletters. New people walk in every single day, and they either found me in an online search, heard about me from a friend or co–worker, or have been following my posts on Facebook and Twitter. Almost all of those people come in expecting to like what they see, because they’ve heard positive feedback from others or because they like the kinds of things I talk about online. I post a lot of photos of my customers, especially when they find a cool item in my store or roll up on an interesting bike. I also post standout items that come in on consignment, which in some cases leads directly to sales.
I also do a lot of in-store events, including educational workshops, coffee/donut mornings, book signings, parties. They bring a lot of people in the door, and I love seeing bikes lined up outside my shop (which brings even more people in the door). My store is really growing into a community hub, and customers of all kinds seem to enjoy each other’s company. In the motorcycle business, being a place of camaraderie is absolutely key to developing a solid, supportive customer community. I think it also lends authenticity and credibility to what I do here, which makes my younger customers feel like they’ve tapped into something real in the motorcycle world.
I’ve also set up booths at a lot of external events, like the Corsa Moto Classica at Willow Springs, the Hell on Wheels Rally at Milestone MX Park, Lossa Engineering’s open house, the Venice Vintage Motorcycle Rally, Mods vs. Rockers OC, and even the Long Beach Cycle Show & Swap at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium. I may not always do a ton of sales at these events, but I do always have people call the store or come in down the road. And it gives me a chance to interact with young people who attend the events, again lending credibility to the fact that I love the motorcycle community and am connected to cool things that are going on in our area.
In terms of merchandising, I have a small space so I’m limited on how I can showcase product. So I find ways to incorporate artwork, reclaimed wood, and other unique pieces that give the store an authentic feel with interesting visuals. My diverse collection of merchandise is what makes my store fun to visit, so I use the products themselves as display pieces. For instance, hanging a few very cool shirts on a piece of wooden fence lends a lot of visual appeal. I also borrow motorcycles from friends and customers to display in my windows, and whenever there’s a story behind the bike, I’ll place a poster near it. Much of this ends on my Facebook page too, with a photo and excited post from me.
DN: Any final thoughts (or something you’d like to add that we didn’t cover)?
JP: Not for nothing, a genuine smile goes a very long way.