These are difficult times for dealers. On top of the current economic uncertainties are changing demographics and possible shifts in the ranks of the OEMs. In the first instance, boomers are beginning to age out of the market, foregoing their motorcycles for more sedate activities as they toddle off to retirement or second careers. As the boomers depart, new customers are starting to arrive on the scene: women and Millennials.
The Chinese OEMs who've been a thorn in the side of "traditionalists" are finally starting to have better quality product, better inventories and better technical support. Some are even reconsidering their distribution models, which so far have relied on small, frequently undercapitalized, independent distributors with little or no prior U.S. distribution experience. The new models will more closely reflect those used by Japanese and European motorcycle distributors in the U.S., with factory-owned distribution.
As the Chinese get closer to the American market, their product is bound to improve not only in ways previously mentioned, but also technologically. When this happens, presuming that their costs don't shoot up precipitously, they will become formidable competitors and may displace one or more of the existing OEMs.
COURTING NEW RIDERS
The reality is that we can do nothing about change. It's coming whether we like it or not. Our best bet for survival is to adapt to the changing environment and learn new ways of doing things. As an example, with the increase of women and Millennial buyers into the market, we need to craft our marketing messages in different ways. We need to look at different methods of message delivery because it looks like that old reliable sales standby, the newspaper (if it hasn't quite bit the dust yet), is well on the way to the floor.
New customers may not be interested in their grandfather's cruiser, so it's likely that the types of motorcycles we'll be selling will change as well. Already, we're seeing some significant shifts in motorcycles — both Aprilia and Honda have come out with automatic transmissions — Aprilia with its conventionally styled Mana 850 and Honda's DN-01 futuristic-looking scooter-motorcycle hybrid.
One thing that won't change, however, is the reason people buy and ride motorcycles — fun. There are lots of other names for it, like freedom, control, challenge, camaraderie, excitement and so on, but the bottom line is that if it doesn't scare you too much, or in the case of the hyper-adrenalized, bore you to death, chances are good that riding a motorcycle will be a joy for you, something you'll look forward to doing every day you can for as long as you can.
THE NEXT LEVEL
So short of a catastrophe, motorcycles will continue to be bought, and will require dealerships to sell and service them.
This was brought home recently in a publication by long-time dealership guru Ed Lemco. It's titled "The Next Level." It's available online for free (but you have to ask for it) by e-mailing Sales and Marketing Manager Laura Lemco at Llemco@att.net. There's a lot of good advice about in it the selling process and how it's changing, and what you should do to adapt. The one thing that Lemco mentions again and again is the necessity — particularly in view of the fact that many of our next generation of motorcyclists will be first time buyers — of selling the fun of motorcycling. This is supported by some preliminary findings of the 2008 Motorcycle Industry Foundation's (MIC) 2008 Owner's Survey that indicates the No. 1 reason for riding a motorcycle is, indeed, pleasure.
Not only is it necessary to sell them on the sport, it also wouldn't hurt to help them understand some of the fundamentals of motorcycling:
- Helmet usage (what's the advantage of a full-face helmet over an open-face, three-quarter or beanie-style). The importance of taking a rider training course and the fact that you don't need a motorcycle to take the course.
- The importance of protective gear from head to toe.
- Put them in touch with a mentor, who can help them through the learning stages and share rides with them. After all, a ride with your compadre is usually more fun than a solo jaunt.
These are things that most of us learned by hanging out, or the hard way — a long and sometimes painful process. Help newcomers by providing answers to their questions.
Lemco also mentions the necessity of selling the brand and your dealership. I'm not sure if the two selling objectives are in hierarchical order, but if they are, I would reverse the two, and put the emphasis on your store. After all, customers can probably buy whatever brand they're interested in at any one of a number of dealerships, but they can only get your services, attention, thoughtfulness and help from you.
We live in interesting times, but some fundamental things never change.