Attracting a new generation of riders is the topic of the hour in the powersports industry, and although it is easy to point a finger at the younger generation, there is a way dealers can reach these potential new customers to turn them into lifelong riders and buyers.
Millennials are defined as individuals born between 1977 and 1995. To further identify this generation, they are technologically savvy and technology-dependent; they hold strong values toward gaining experience and environmental conservation. On top of their many interests, these individuals carry a large amount of student debt. This population consists of over 80 million in the U.S. and they hold a lot of buying power.
“I think that the biggest challenge with the industry today is new ridership. The average age of a motorcyclist is 50 years old. Five years ago, it was 45,” said Jeremy Jansen, president of the motorsports group at Wells Fargo Commercial Distribution Finance (CDF). “The single biggest challenge is ridership, and specifically, an aging ridership where the industry is not back-filling the channel quickly enough.”
One solution to attracting new ridership is by gaining motorcycling experience. This could be through a motorcycle riding academy, a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course or dirt bike school, for example.
“There is a material challenge in the industry of converting potential riders into motorcyclists,” Jansen said. “There are a lot of different ways that someone can gain an early motorcycling experience and people will attend the sessions and they may come away from those with a motorcycle license, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into being a lifelong motorcyclist. It doesn’t translate into someone walking into a dealership and procuring either a new or pre-owned motorcycle. So, as an industry, we have to figure out how do we increase the pull through rate in that funnel.”
Helping those new riders continue to their riding experience beyond the early-learning courses is essential to bringing in millennial customers.
“There’s plenty of interest at the high level, but it’s that conversion ratio that we really have to work on,” Jansen said. “Specific to millennials, looking at a $25,000 to $30,000 very large and intimidating motorcycle is certainly not at the forefront of their minds.”
Jansen explained that many OEMs are seeing this trend amongst millennials and they are building their inventory towards the new modern. This includes several notable OEMs releasing smaller-displacement bikes and naked or entry-level motorcycles with a low to mid-range price tag and added technology.
Creating product for the millennial generation is just the first step to opening the door to new ridership.
“I think, as an industry, we have to continue to push the outdoor lifestyle, we have to continue doing things as groups and we need to be inclusive. I think, for many years, motorcycling has not been an inclusive culture and instead, it can be intimidating.”
Right now, there is a trend with large vendors promoting technical specs for new vehicles on social media rather than focusing on the experience that potential new riders are looking for, including millennials. With Jansen’s expertise at Wells Fargo CDF, he referenced how the RV industry changed their marketing tactic over 20 years ago via the successful “Go RVing” slogan to attract new buyers through an outdoor lifestyle.
“In other industries that we support, whether it’s RV or boating, you’re seeing a growth in those recreational activities out of millennials. So, there is not a shortage of wanting to be outdoors and experiencing good times with your friends and family,” Jansen said. “So, as an industry, how do we make motorcycling more front and center? How do we make it more inclusive? How do we ensure people get the right training to be comfortable? Those are the things that, the MIC (Motorcycle Industry Council) and some other groups are really focused on… We need to be more inclusive with our marketing strategies and in our messaging to prospective riders.”
Although attracting new riders is an industry-wide challenge, dealers can take action locally to bring millennials into their dealership.
“For dealers, it’s about making sure you are marketing your dealership the right way in your community and in your region,” Jansen said. “This means using social media, having events at your dealership to draw people in, to build a family at your dealership and to build groups of riders who will ultimately be there to purchase goods and services from you. Ultimately, you will bring together like-minded potential customers who will want to be together and enjoy the outdoors together.”
Looking at the bigger picture, Jansen said that promoting safety is a great way to bring in new riders, from Gen Z to Gen X.
Wells Fargo CDF is the corporate sponsor of the United States Motorcycle Coaching Association (USMCA) and shares the importance of ensuring rider safety across all generations.
“The work that the USMCA is doing to build a network of coaches nationwide takes people from a parking lot and cones to actually being in the woods or on a dirt track or being on the street,” Jansen said. “It is a huge effort, a grassroots effort, and building confidence in riders is key.”
Right now, the USMCA has over 125 certified coaches and the strategy will continue to evolve as the industry evolves.
The strategy, built from a model by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and the U.S. Bicycling Association, takes people quickly from the point of getting their license to getting on the street/dirt and increasing their comfort level. Jansen explained it in college terms, from a 101-level class, to a 201 and 301 curriculum.
“Imagine you’re at a dealership and you’re looking at items to purchase for your family for the holidays or for a special occasion. Knowing that there is a coaching association locally where you can pull up your phone and find a coach in your area that the dealership is promoting, that’s going to give the consumer more confidence in the sport, whether they are 4- or 14- or 44-years-old,” Jansen added. “It’s about building that network nationwide, where you have access to get the right coach/mentor and to be more confident. It’s not a quick fix in terms of refilling the motorcycling pipeline, but it is surely going to help from a long-term perspective.” t
Wells Fargo CDF is a leading provider of inventory finance for many different industries worldwide, including motorsports, marine, RV, agriculture and electronic appliance industries. Wells Fargo CDF conducts business globally, with a large presence in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. The company is headquartered in Atlanta, GA, with teams based in Medina, MN with Polaris Industries in a joint venture and also on the West Coast. For more information, visit cdf.wf.com.