Courting the Couples

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budgeting sales window shopping attracting customers spending habits

THE TWO DECISION-MAKERS of a household usually need to be present simultaneously to purchase something as significant as a new motorcycle. This may remain a male-dominated industry, but the average male in our current market does not control 100 percent of the household checkbook; in fact, it's more like 30 percent. His significant other pays the utilities, groceries and rent, then determines what is left for frivolity. Even the young, single boys who want to buy a new 2009 Belchfire 1000 have to save and spend beaucoup dollars on their girlfriends first or risk losing their vital companionship forever.

Sometimes wanting is better — at least cheaper — than having, so window shopping as a couple has become a major household activity. The problem is the key decision-making couples of America are shopping in the malls or in front of a computer. This is keeping credit-qualified couples away from your brick-and-mortar store. Getting just the tech-questioning male half into your store isn't going to increase your sales by much, you need her there, too. Husband-and-wife teams agree on a dollar amount in their budgets which require the other's endorsement before that amount of money is ever spent. Pity the poor newly married fool who impulsively buys a new sportbike and proudly rides it home to surprise his young wife. The stupidity doesn't last long — or the marriage doesn't.

Other approved team-buying scenarios could be the teenager and a parent "investing" a hard-earned allowance into affordable transportation. It could also be the young couple or the empty-nesters looking for an adventuresome ride. Long gone are the days of single men buying new bikes with cash on the barrel, unless they're casino rustlers or drug lords.

YOUR STRATEGY

The real issue is how to get more decision-making teams into your showroom. House and car hunting endeavors don't encounter this problem, probably because the woman will use a house or car more often then a motorcycle. She'll get off the sofa or leave work early in order to increase domestic bliss, but why should she lift a finger for a mechanical toy which appears so singularly selfish for him?

OK, I am being harsh. Unless you're married to a moose-hunting, sled-headed Sarah Palin, that is the simple blockade which needs to be crossed. What's in it for her? Is there a better way to reach out from your store to lure in more of the better halves so you can explain the family benefits of powersports?

Mission Motorsports in Irvine, Calif., exhibits new motorcycle and watercraft inside our local movie theater lobby. I can check out the latest Honda or KTM while I eat my popcorn on the way to see a Ben Stiller flick — all the time with my wife next to me. Cool. She sees the bike I really need and we get to talk about it together. The "seed" has been planted — inside a movie theater in less than 60 seconds of gawking and drooling. We are there together and don't have to drive out of our way to the dealership (which, by the way, she has still never seen the inside of in 20 years). But after the movie she gets it — more than if I had been at the dealership all by myself.

The Ford and Chevy dealer in town will usually grant permission to display a motocross machine in the bed of one of their showroom'd pickup trucks. It helps sell the lifestyle. Even shopping mall owners will rent some space in their central walkways for a powersports display.

Have you thought about the future of virtual showrooms being implemented by local auto dealerships? I don't mean the average Internet quote request type of "showrooms"; I mean the kind of sales avatars (a Lara Croft-style video game salesperson) shown on www.ai-dealer.com/Avatar_Sample.html. (Note that "ai" stands for artificial intelligence. It isn't refined yet as you will see, but it's coming soon to revolutionize new unit sales well beyond the likes of www.edmunds.com.)

The holiday season is here and the malls occasionally have an empty space or two available on a temporary basis. How about exhibiting a couple of new units there with some roll-in displays, brochure racks, a desk and a fax machine with a huge stack of credit apps? Malls are where the families are, so give them a collective idea for a new pasttime. Going to them might actually be cheaper and more effective than spending huge advertising dollars to have them come to you.

Things are different with $4/gallon gasoline, so show off all of your small fuel-efficient bikes with big red ribbons on them. Wouldn't a brightly colored scooter look nice under the Christmas tree after being seen by the entire family at the mall?

I hope you have something special planned for the day after Thanksgiving — the biggest retail day for shopping in America. Have you invited women to visit your store or scheduled a Ladies Night the following Wednesday or Thursday night after Thanksgiving week? Moms, wives and grandmothers will go crazy in your store when there are no men around. Suddenly there are no dumb questions and the fear of embarrassment drops away — it's all women surrounded by a willing staff.

Customers have changed their thinking about retail in the last six months. Look around and think differently — especially if more than 80 percent of the customers walking in your front door are still male. And think outside your dealership-box to where you might catch more female customers' eyes without the expense and time of luring them to your exact out-of-the-way location.

Longtime columnist Eric Anderson is vice president of Scorpion Sports. Contact him at eric@scorpionusa.com or via editors@dealernews.com.