Motorcycle Evangelist

Preach the power of powersports to score converts

It’s time for us to ponder the next phase of what we’re doing as powersports dealers. As usual, I don’t claim to have answers in the following rant, but I do have a bunch of questions. I still believe that the genius in the room is the reader, not the writer.

As you’re reading this, you should have a feel for your store’s immediate future. Are you looking at a shrinking market going forward with a smaller pool of potential buyers? With this new economic state of affairs, are you limited to customers within your existing market? Are motorcycle people the only people who will buy motorcycles until the economy grows again? Will you be able to evangelize people, or, in other words, convert them to our sport? Do potential converts even walk through your doors?

During our industry’s growth period of the ’90s, there were a lot of converts joining our market who had never ridden before. For evidence, I point to the advent of Harley’s Rider’s Edge program, MSF and local college courses, and the industry’s sustained growth during that period. We experienced double-digit growth. All dealers who experienced that growth did so because the economy was so good and discretionary income was so abundant; people just needed something to spend their money on.

Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson, with locations throughout New England and Maryland, experienced triple-digit growth during that era. We worked with Mike’s for four years and helped maximize his market. During that period, we grew unit sales from right around 700 units in the calendar year 2000 to over 1,700 units in 2004 — a growth rate ahead of the rest of the industry — and we did so without costing any of his competition a loss in market share.

According to people I spoke with from The Motor Company a few years later, all of the dealers in his district grew at the same rate as the rest of the nation during that period. Everyone else was getting the same influx of customers and converting about the same percentage of people.

Why was Mike able to grow and not steal customers from the other dealers? We were converting more of the people who would’ve gone to our real competitors: the plastic surgeon, travel agent, pool builder, etc. In short, we were not stealing from the motorcycle competition; rather, we were taking customers from other industries.

I remain convinced that there is something unique about the products we sell that nothing else can provide for people. A motorcycle is an extremely selfish thing, and riding one is something one does for oneself. Everything we sell has a degree of that in common. Even a farmer who "needs" an ATV to pull his spray rig around only buys an ATV because it’s more fun than a tractor.

If you want to serve an existing market, get ready to contract your business. If you want to grow your business, you’ll have to be prepared to be an evangelist. Motorcycles, ATVs, watercraft and snowmobiles are wonderful machines. We all know the healing power of riding home the long way after a rotten day at work. We all know the redemptive power of falling off a dirt bike and getting back on. We all know how powerfully our mental health can be affected by putting the world on hold while we go for a ride, and if you don’t remember, get out and go for a ride!

At the last sales manager job I had, we took the entire sales team out for a two-hour ride on one Saturday morning before our weekly sales meeting. When we got back to the dealership, the air was buzzing. We all came back with fresh stories, a few new nicknames (we called one guy "Clutch" because he kept killing his bike) and a renewed understanding of what people were coming in the door to buy that day. We were all believers again. It turned out to be the busiest day of the year. Coincidence? You tell me.

We need to be evangelists to reach out and grow our business. An existing motorcycle market could conceivably be served with poster-sized brochures and giant vending machines.

I challenge you to get out there and make everyone who walks through your door today believe. Start with yourself and then with your team. I dare you.

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