How To Be A Journey and The Destination
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hether franchised dealership or independent, motorcycle shops face a challenging retail environment that’s intensified by their customers’ ready access to parts and services online. This isn’t news. So for brick and mortar stores, the strategy for survival is getting people to your store. But how do you do that?
Under current ownership for 4-1/2 years
Aftermarket: Harley-Davidson, Kuryakin, Drag Specialties, Arlen Ness, and other Harley-oriented accessory manufacturers [/pullquote]
Tom Wronkovich and John Allen, the owner and general manager respectively of Harley-Davidson BikeTown near Youngstown, Ohio, have solved that dilemma by developing attention-grabbing events that draw people. And the emphasis of these events is on making them both entertaining and exceptional, so when people think of BikeTown they think of it not only as the Harley dealership, but more importantly as a fun, exciting place to go.
As Allen explains, “We like having big parties and big events that are one step up from what others are doing.” One such initiative started three years ago when BikeTown began holding a two-day music festival in late August, hiring national acts to perform at the dealership. Since then, it’s become a regional happening. Wronkovich’s interest in music was the genesis of the idea and it took off when the shop formed a partnership with a local concert promoter, Ballyhoo Productions. Now they host several additional concerts each year, even in the cold weather months. By outfitting their inventory space with a stage, proper lighting, and high-end sound system, BikeTown has created a venue for performers and a destination for up to 600 customers – and potential customers.
Concert acts are chosen for broad appeal to draw a variety of riders and would-be riders. To attract the vital young adult demographic, BikeTown also hosts extreme sporting events that include skateboarding, bicycling and bike racing, to get younger people accustomed to coming to the Harley-Davidson dealership. “It’s a strategy,” Allen says. “Once they’re done pedaling that bicycle, we have something else with two wheels.”
This is forward thinking for a franchise that’s been in the Youngstown area since 1947. The dealership experienced several moves and expansions over the years, in 1998, 2003 and most recently in 2007 when the current location was built. The latest addition to that facility was in 2013, an indication of continual growth. “We don’t hunker down and wait for things to change,” Allen says. “We keep a positive outlook.”
To that end, the new building in 2007 was actually built around an innovative customer service concept that Allen had developed a few years before, a process called PALS, which stands for Parts, Accessories, Labor Specialists. Allen started working at the dealership about 15 years ago, spending time in just about every department as he worked his way up to GM. His experience made him rethink how customers are typically treated, having to go from one department to the next to choose accessories, get quotes and schedule service. “With PALS, we don’t have separate parts people and service writers, they do both,” Allen says.
Allen explains: “The service writer wants to get the customer in, get the job done and get them out in a satisfactory amount of time. The parts guy is always looking for an up-sell or chrome addition. When you put the jobs together that person now wants to get the customer in and out efficiently with accessories.” It’s less hassle for the customer and helps build relationships between staff and customers. “We like to say you develop a PAL for life,” he adds.
And better still, from a GM’s standpoint you’re not staffing two counters, you’re staffing one, trimming overhead. The concept is a win-win for both the customer and the business owner.
For staff development in other departments, BikeTown reaches out to corporate H-D for parts and service input, and offers additional training for both sales and F&I personnel. Perhaps more importantly, Allen and Wronkovich have established an environment of positivity that is enhanced by a complete staff meeting every morning to discuss what’s happening and make sure everyone is on board. “After that we consider we are on stage,” Allen says. “Talk with a smile on your face whether on the phone or in front of a customer. You need to shine.”
Top management attends the H-D dealer shows to interact with other dealers and discuss best practices, but Allen and Wronkovich also source customer service models from other industries. For example, they’ve sent employees for training with companies in the hospitality business to bring back ideas to apply at BikeTown. It’s apparently effective as reflected in the shop’s strong core management staff. “My least tenured manager has been here seven years,” Allen says.
BikeTown also makes it a point to reach out to potential partners, going beyond the local market to create a more national feel and build larger scale relationships. One example: BikeTown built a custom motorcycle for Camancho Cigars that took a 50-stop tour in 2014, returning to the dealership for the grand finale giveaway. The shop also benefits from high visibility near a major interstate and proximity to the Quaker Steak & Lube for weekly bike nights.
BikeTown’s goal is to provide people with a unique experience, building on that to get them to return for the next one. It’s a way of merging motorcycles, music and culture that expands the reach beyond the typical motorcycle rider. And it gives the staff something to talk about and a reason to invite people to the store to have a good time.
The lesson here? Don’t get pigeonholed into being “only” a motorcycle shop. Reach out and look around. Think about what other businesses do to attract and keep customers and try those techniques. Of course, holding events takes vision, planning and execution; but your shop can handle that, right?
All images courtesy of Harley-Davidson BikeTown.