History of the Brand: Triumph in America

Publish Date: 
Mar 18, 2014
By Mike Vaughan


The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a "name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers." We're all familiar with brands, and every product we buy or use represents some kind of brand. Brands are like the job-seeker's elevator speech; hearing or seeing the brand name of a product paints an instantaneous picture in our minds about the brand's quality, reputation and position in the marketplace.

Successful brands are built upon a foundation of quality, innovation, and consumer service. The Triumph brand meets all of these requirements.

This is their story, courtesy Dealernews' Mike Vaughan.

IT IS HARD TO BELIEVE that 20 years have passed since Triumph decided it was time to set up shop in the United States.

John Bloor launched his line of motorcycles at the Cologne show in 1990, and slowly expanded through Europe and the United Kingdom. After a four-year test run in Germany, he figured that if they could stand up to the abuse handed to a motorcycle in Germany, they were good to go anywhere.

At the time Triumphs were distributed through a mixture of third party and Triumph-owned outlets. In 1993, Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA proposed a distribution agreement that included a separate sales and marketing organization, housed in its own facility with a dealer organization separate from Kawasaki’s. After some thought, the proposal was rejected and Triumph struck out on its own, establishing a headquarters and distribution center in Peachtree City, Ga.

The Georgia location was logical and practical. There would be only a six-hour time differential between the UK and the U.S. headquarters, so any business that needed to be conducted between the UK and the U.S. could be handled promptly, almost on the same day. A major port existed a few hours away in Charleston, land and lease costs were reasonable, and a major international airport (Atlanta Hartsfield) was only about a half-hour away.

By late 1994, a building had been located, staff hired and the quest for dealers was underway. Michael Lock, the first president of Triumph, set out to locate dealers who were “passionate about the brand,” and personally interviewed all of them.

Lock departed in 1997, and Ross Clifford, who’d been in the marketing department at Triumph International, took his place. I was hired in early 1998 initially as general manager, and then I was promoted to CEO. By this time we had around 100 dealers, a lot of uncovered markets and a lot of pressure to fill them. I think the entire United States was covered by six district managers, all of whom had huge territories, one stretching from Texas to the Canadian border.

Internally we had probably another dozen or so people responsible for dealer service, customer service, sales, warranty administration, marketing, warehousing and parts and accessories. Just about everyone wore several hats. As far as sales were concerned, we were hardly a black spot on the monthly MIC Retail Sales Reports.

Getting any organization off the ground is difficult and tenuous, as evidenced by the startups and failures that litter our industry. Aside from the fact that we were basically just getting started, our model line, with few exceptions, was behind the curve in terms of styling and development. Other than that, the mechanicals were good, and the quality and finish was excellent. The pricing, however, was out of line with the market. A 1998 Thunderbird listed for $8,995, at the same time you could buy a new Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 for $7,699 or a Honda CBR900RR for $8,999. Granted, compared to other European bikes, Triumph was on the low end, but the brand at that time was more frequently compared to the Japanese than Ducati or BMW.

In ’02 Triumph finally rolled the bike that every Triumph diehard had been waiting for: the Bonneville. It quickly became Triumph America’s best seller and, to this day, the Bonneville and its variants remain the point of the sales spear for the company.

The Bonneville also opened dealers’ doors to Triumph. Dealers that had been hesitant to take the brand, now wanted to get in on the action.Overall, with the addition of the Bonneville and other new models, and the fact that throughout the line engines and bikes were rapidly being redesigned, updated, and restyled, lead to increased Triumph momentum.

In 2004 Triumph decided to quit pursuing the four-cylinder market, and focus on what it had historically and recently been known for: twins and triples. Since then, Triumph developed a line of 26 motorcycles that covers all segments of the market with the exception of off-road. Currently the smallest displacement bike in the lineup is the 675cc triple and the largest, the 2300cc Rocket III; however, we’re hearing and seeing rumors and spy shots of a bike believed to be in the 300cc displacement category to be added soon, giving Triumph additional sales opportunities.

The company has now moved to larger headquarters, nearer the Atlanta airport. The staff has practically tripled since the early 2000s, and now numbers close to 70. Customer service, which used to run like most companies, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, now operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Triumph’s goal in coming years, says Triumph President Greg Heichelbeck, is to become the best-selling European motorcycle in North America, a goal to which it's closer than you might think.

With 230 dealers in North America, the market isn’t exactly saturated. Triumph is still looking for dealers and has a goal of 300 in North America, by the end of 2014.

If you’re interested in finding out what’s required to obtain a dealership in your area, or if there’s one available, call 888-284-6288 -- that’s Triumph’s 24/7 Customer Service Department, they can answer any question you have, provide you with the documentation you may need, and arrange a meeting with the regional business manager to determine if there’s a match.