About two years ago I acted as moderator for a Harley-Davidson dealer seminar that involved a panel of six top-selling dealerships in the category of parts and accessories. The plan was that I would ask the questions and let the panel express their thoughts in their own words. Several good ideas came from the panel. The following are three of them.
Differentiate to attract and keep customers: Define what your service specialty or company culture is, and make sure all customers know it. Lonnie Apol, dealer principle (panelist) at Apol’s Harley-Davidson, explained how his two Minnesota dealerships do just that. Apol wants his customers to feel like family in every way. Apol’s home page requests customers to “Experience the Apol’s difference,” and part of its mission statement (also on the home page) states, “We are committed to treating our customers honestly and fairly, and to do it in a manner that we would like ourselves.” Apol explained to the dealer group that his team works hard to know all customers on a personal level, and all staff is expected to be friendly and helpful at all times. As a result, Apol’s H-D has earned a good base of loyal customers who shop their stores often, and refer friends and family.
Capitalize on what I call the “Event Effect”: While events can excite the shopper, we must realize that the Event Effect is short-lived. That’s what Jimmy Pietrinferni, general manager at Harley-Davidson Shop of Wildwood, N.J., told us about what I’ll call its “frosty balls ride” where the store sponsors a ride on a blistery day in January. Leading up to the ride, they sold a good number of cold-weather riding gear, heated accessories and windshields.
They sold a cluster of the same on the day of the ride, and a few more during the three to four days following. Then the Event Effect was over. Not because the weather changed, but because most consumers have a very short attention span. Pietrinferni reminded us that for every event we hold that causes customers to ride in mass or assemble at the store, we must be ready with the appropriate inventory and services to capture every potential sale during the height of excitement. We shouldn’t expect sales to continue for weeks after an event just because the weather is good. That’s a sure way to become overstocked.
Ride, ride, ride: Ride with customers. Ride the brand you sell. Ride off-road and on-road. Ride to work. This will model the behaviors you want from customers and also increase customer confidence that you’re the guy or gal they should be doing business with.
This last idea is the one that was quite startling, because it was brought to the group’s attention by a young parts manager from Medicine Hat Harley-Davidson in Dunmore, Alberta, Canada. The PM stated (enthusiastically, I might add) to the collection of a couple of hundred Harley dealers something like this: “It’s about riding the f*@%ing motorcycle, man. You just gotta f*@%ing ride!”
I had a moment of panic at this point, by the way. I didn’t know how the dealers and Harley corporate were going to respond to this guy’s colorful language. The PM continued, “You gotta ride with the customers. You gotta ride the events. And, if you don’t ride or don’t want to ride with your customers, get out of the business. Every Saturday our dealership sponsors a ride. We invite all brands. As long as they’re on two wheels they can ride with us. Of course, we’d prefer they ride a Harley, but as long they continue to ride with us we know we’ll get them on a Harley someday.”
Could it be that simple? Just ride and they will come? They will buy? They will bring their friends? No, it’s not, but if you don’t ride — if you don’t ride what you sell and if you don’t create events where your customers get their bikes out of their garages and ride them — your business will suffer.
Powersports businesses are not vacuum cleaner stores. They don’t sell something people need. They sell something people want — even dream about. Your business can’t afford to wait for customers to find their way to your store out of necessity. And you can’t afford to wait for vehicles in use to wear out so the customer comes shopping for a replacement. The simplest and cheapest way to encourage sales is for the store owner and staff to participate in the sport and encourage and sponsor events where staff and customers can ride together.
Is that going to be fun and easy? Not always, because some customers are a pain in the butt. No excuses, you know some just are. That’s why I want to help you prepare. In an upcoming column I’ll give you some strategies to develop the customer culture that makes it easy to ride outside the work environment. Most important, I’ll tell you how to handle difficult customers when they confront you outside the store.
Until then, ride well and be profitable!
Dave Koshollek will be presenting a number of parts and service seminars at the Dealernews Learning Experience at Dealer Expo, Feb. 18-20 in Indianapolis.