Marketing for tax-refund season: dealers report mixed results

Publish Date: 
Apr 1, 2014
By Vince Guerrieri

IN ADDITION TO warmer weather and better riding conditions in most parts of the country, spring means something else to a lot of people: income tax refunds.

According to a consumer survey by the National Retail Federation, two-thirds of U.S. residents over the age of 18 are expecting an income tax refund. And more than 10 percent of those say they are planning to make a major purchase with the refund dollars.

Some dealers try to target those people – with mixed results.

Rick Fairless, owner of Strokers Dallas and a columnist for Dealernews, said that every year he gets some customers looking to spend their tax refunds at his shop.

“Sometimes it’s a large purchase in parts or service, and sometimes it’s a motorcycle,” he said. “The tax refund purchases are pretty low on the total number of bikes we sell, but we do sell a few. Two or three bikes a year we can say come directly from tax refunds.”

Strokers has a marketing initiative to remind customers that the dealership is more than happy to help them spend their tax refund. He said the best time to do this is January and February. The NRF survey said that nearly 60 percent of people would have their tax returns filed by February.

“We also remind them that riding a motorcycle can be very economical and fun,” Fairless said.

Gordie Wilson came to powersports sales after working at an auto dealership. After seeing tax refund sales pitches work in selling cars, he started using them at Approval Powersports in Sandusky, Mich., where he’s the sales manager. Wilson said the store sent out mailers in 2012 and 2013, but the reaction was so tepid that it didn’t send out mailers this year.

“It doesn’t do anything like I thought it would,” he said. “[Auto sales] see a big spike. We don’t.”

Wilson said that sales in March – when people are looking to spend tax refunds – can be difficult to predict.

“March is always a funny month,” he said. “It just depends on the weather.”

According to the survey, about 46 percent of people who expected a tax refund said they’d put it into their savings. Another 37.7 percent said they’d pay down debt, and 25.3 percent said it would go toward everyday purchases.