Offering Winter Storage Programs to Boost Service

We may have a few good days left to ride (if we’re lucky), but most riders park their bikes before the first snowfall.

For a good portion of the country, winter is here, and the riding season is over. We may have a few good days left in early winter to ride (if we’re lucky), but most riders park their bikes before the first snowfall.

For many dealers in the snow belt, offering a winter storage program can be an excellent way to keep a customer engaged and maybe add some service work during the off-season. We found that storage programs vary from dealer-to-dealer, but many are offering packages tied to service. 

“Our philosophy is to offer the customer more options than just the basic ‘put your bike away for the winter in a safe place,’” said Heritage Harley-Davidson Service Manager Tim Alexander. “We offer the security of knowing that your bike is going to be looked over by a factory-trained technician.”

For many riders, if they can’t store their bikes at home, they look for a storage facility nearby. Alexander said that standard storage units are what they are mostly competing against, and they wanted to offer something better. Heritage H-D breaks down their storage programs into three levels, from basic storage to VIP.  

Alexander said that their top tier package (Level 3) includes a service checkup. “It entails a 5,000-mile services interval for Harley-Davidson, and it’s a pretty big one. We go through the motorcycle and check all the electrical systems. Check the front and rear tires, check the wheels. If it has laced wheels, we’ll tighten the spokes, test brake fluid. We’ll also check and adjust throttle controls if that’s applicable. Most of the bikes nowadays have an electronic throttle, but you still want to verify that it’s working the way it should.”

Heritage also handles state inspection in the Level 3 storage package because it can take unnecessary time out of the customer’s riding season. “We take care of state inspection – because state inspections are required here in New Hampshire… The goal is to give the customer more time to ride when the season starts.”

Harley-Davidsons have three separate oil cavities, so Alexander said they have to change the engine oil, transmission fluid and primary fluid with their Level 3 Basic Service. “We also adjust final drive belts, torque, all the critical fasteners. It’s about a 2-1/2-hour job.”

While storage-only facilities may keep a bike out of the elements, they’re also out of sight, out of mind. Any service has to wait until the owner pulls it out for the season, which is when many shops are backed up. With Heritage’s storage program, customers can get their bikes serviced during a slow time for the shop. As Alexander pointed out, “We’re swamped in the springtime, like all service departments in a seasonal riding area, so the wait for service could be a week or even two weeks in some cases.”

The idea is to make sure when the customer picks up their bike that they’re ready to go, according to Alexander. At that point, the customer has had any accessories they bought installed while the bike is being stored to eliminate downtime during the short riding season. 

Heritage makes sure each storage package includes a multipoint inspection. It allows techs to look for concerns so you can see if there’s any maintenance that needs to be addressed or if there’s any repair necessary on the motorcycle. “A lot of times, failures happen gradually, and customers won’t even be aware of it until they’re shown that there’s an issue,” Alexander said.

Heritage also offers a package where storage is free of charge with a purchase of up to $2,250 worth of parts, which could include new tires or shocks – that’s all in, parts and labor. “In the Harley world, it’s pretty easy to get there. We’re trying to incentivize customers to take care of whatever work the bike needs over the winter so that we can keep the boys busy and keep wrenches turning.”

With 400 bikes and trikes stored last winter, Alexander is hoping to crest over 400 this year. Heritage Harley owner, Eileen Sleeper, was smart, he said, because she bought the place with storage in mind. Not all dealers will have the amount of storage as Heritage, but there’s always room to be creative.

“We’ve been pretty creative,” Alexander said. “We’ve got a separate building for storage that’s on the property, but it’s detached from the main facility. It’s a classroom space and a garage space that was not being used in the off-season. We added a double door to connect the two large rooms, and we’ll store Tri-Glides over there because three-wheelers can be kind of cumbersome, especially when you’re pretty full with 400 bikes in the house. It gives us a good space to use for our trikes.”

Alexander said you have to maximize the square footage you’ve got. They also have a mezzanine area filled during the winter and a warehouse racking system. “We palletize the bikes. No matter where they are on the campus, they’ve got a bin location so that we can be strategic about how we’re working on stuff. It doesn’t make sense to move 20 bikes out of the way to get one down.”

Alexander said the winter storage program keeps the dealership, especially the service department, plenty busy in the wintertime:

“Springtime can be kind of tricky. You’re trying to manage payroll and the volume of work at the same time. Obviously, you don’t want the techs working a bunch of overtime when we’re already working on discounted packages early in the season, then sitting around waiting for work later in the year. Depending on how the weather turns, we try to stay caught up enough to be ready for retail when it starts coming in again. But you never know when the weather is going to turn around here. You’re trying to be part weatherman almost.” 

Another aspect of the winter storage package that Heritage offers is a VIP Winter Party, which Alexander said is one of his favorite things he gets to do. 

“We give each winter storage customer two tickets to an exclusive winter storage party, and we’ll provide finger food and beverages,” he explained. “I’ll buy about a thousand chicken wings, and we’ll have anywhere from 200 to 250 people attend. I’ll reach out to our vendors that are interested in kind of cross promoting the event. I’ve had everybody from Drag Specialties, Tucker, New Hampshire State Police, powder coaters and painters and so on. I try to get people in here that our customers are going to enjoy talking with and also try to stimulate a little bit more workflow in the shop while they’re here.

A couple of years ago, Heritage added a bike show during the party

“Each employee in the department selected their favorite motorcycle in the winter storage program to enter into the bike show,” Alexander said. “Part of the deal is that they get a complimentary detailing if they’re chosen in the bike show, and I will have the customers that are attending the party vote on their favorite.”  

The winner gets a trophy made out of a scrap engine case. “We’ll put that on an engine stand on top of a Harley-Davidson 55-gallon oil drum. People love it. It’s something that any guy would want in his man cave, for sure.”

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