Dealers: Forget that poker run

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Most of us didn’t get into this business with the intention of getting rich. That would be nice, but it’s probably not going to happen. Most of us got into this business because we liked motorcycles, snowmobiles or ATVs, and thought it would be great if we could turn our hobby into a business. What usually happens is that the business begins to consume the time you’d normally have for your motorcycle. While this is OK for some, most of us would rather spend a little more time in the saddle than riding the desk.

It’s now officially summer, so maybe it’s time for you to have some fun with your business. Do a little riding, engage your customers and share the fun. Who knows, you may sell something in the process. Here are some ideas you might want to consider.

Lots of dealerships and clubs put on poker runs. I hate poker runs. They’re probably the most boring things I’ve ever done on a motorcycle. Sure, they get people to your store, they get them on their bikes, and they give the customer a reason to ride — all very important considerations. The downside is there’s a lot of preparation and infrastructure that has to be created to make them work smoothly.

• Consider then the scavenger hunt. While it requires some pre-planning, you don’t have to have people handing out cards at five locations and all the other tasks that are required when putting together a poker run.

Here’s how it works: You need to lay out a route, but that in and of itself means a day on the bike. What could be better?

Participants are issued a map of the route, along with instructions and questions that need to be answered successfully to complete the hunt. As an example: Take route 78 west out of the parking lot until you see a big blue round sign. What does the sign say? Take a right at the sign and follow that route to Mel’s Diner; pick up something at Mel’s that proves you were there. This could be a receipt for a cup of coffee, someone else’s receipt, a matchbook, a napkin, anything that can be attributed to Mel’s. Tourist attractions are also good, as is an old school or a church, or a local museum.

Ask questions like, what color is it? What’s parked on the lawn, what’s the featured display at the museum? And so on. Make the ride interesting and the questions challenging. Make them do some looking to find the answer. Of course, the hunt ends at your store, and the folks who bring back the most items and answer the most questions correctly are the winners. Tie-breakers can be obvious landmarks along the route that weren’t part of the instructions.

• A few years ago, one of the Top 100 entrants told us about his idea for a “fun” ride. He laid out a route, and each rider was given a paper plate. The plate was taped to the front of the motorcycle, on the fairing or windshield (dare I say headlight?). The contestants went off on their ride, and when they returned, the number of bugs splattered on the plate determined the winner.

I can see where this might get contentious, but you can select at random from the group a panel of judges that, in the case of a disputed bug count, decides whether the count is correct or not. Thereby diverting the hassle from you to them.

• In the olden days at Kawasaki, we did a similar, though not as challenging, event. Using a KDX and about an 8-foot ramp, the challenge was to go as slowly as possible down the ramp without touching down. The fair way to do this is by time, but you can also do it as a one-on-one, with the winner taking on the next challenger.

• Yet another idea appeals primarily to the off-road crowd, but I suppose it’s possible to adapt it to the street group. It’s the rear-wheel change. You have lots of options here. The bike can be set on a crate, and the wheel changed, or the crate can be part of the tools needed to change the wheel. The contestant would put the bike on the crate, remove the rear wheel, put it flat on the ground, then pick it up and remount it on the swing arm, and remove the crate. An added degree of difficulty would be to have the contestant remove the tube, then reinstall it, inflate it and then put the wheel back on the bike.

Over the years I’ve seen a number of surveys that indicate that one of the reasons people get out of motorcycling is due to boredom. How many times can you meet the same people for breakfast or lunch, or ride the same roads before you finally wake up on a weekend morning and say, screw the ride, I’m going to the beach today?

Retaining customers is key to a successful business. Keeping those customers involved, entertained and interested is crucial to retaining them and having them tell their friends what a great time they’re having with their motorcycles. Our job is to continually provide them with interesting places to go and fun things to do. The above certainly isn’t an all-singing, all-dancing list of possible activities, but hopefully it can start you thinking about providing some fun for your customers and sharing it with them.

Have a great summer!

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews July 2010 issue.