The theme of the 2009 AMA International Women & Motorcycling Conference was “Riding to New Heights,” a most appropriate slogan, considering that the conference took place at the Keystone, Colo., ski resort, 9,000 feet above sea level. In addition to fun parties, great roads and spectacular scenery, the conference presented an opportunity to learn a lot from more than 1,000 enthusiastic women motorcyclists from all over the United States and Canada (along with a few husbands and boyfriends) who attended.
Jan Plessner, Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A., public relations manager, presented some surprising statistics. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, women now account for 12.3% of all new motorcycle and scooter sales, a 29% increase since 2003. Generation X and Y females make up an even larger percentage of motorcycle owners — 15% and 14%, respectively. In 2008, women accounted for 23%, or 5.7 million of the 25 million Americans who rode a motorcycle.
Jan went on to explain that women are becoming more educated and are making more money. They are increasingly involved in athletics and are having fewer children. And finally, research has shown that women make 80% of all household buying decisions.
“It’s really exciting to watch our customer demographics change,” observes Jan. “There are so many more young people and women discovering motorcycles. Gen Y-ers are said to be 70 million strong or almost one third of our nation’s population, and they are just coming of age. That should have a very positive impact on our industry.”
Women at the conference were glad to explain what will attract them to your shop and how you can encourage them to be loyal customers. They were also not shy about stating what will cause a typical woman to make a U-turn and walk out of your door.
Shortly after the AMA conference, I was able to attend an all women’s ride on the scenic Selkirk Loop of Northern Idaho and British Columbia. The women on this ride, seasoned journalists and observers of the scene, had additional ideas on how you, as a dealer, can make your dealership a destination for women customers.
The bottom line is that increasing numbers of women want to be your customers. They want to buy motorcycles and accessories. They want to keep their bikes purring. And since women like to communicate, if they like what they see, they will tell all their friends and relations to come to your store.
How do you get these well-heeled enthusiasts into your dealership? Here’s a step-by-step approach:
Host women-focused events. “Incorporate women-specific events in your open houses and host smaller women-only events. Harley-Davidson dealers have had success with Garage Parties,” states Leslie Prevish, H-D’s Women’s Outreach manager. “You don’t have to do it all yourself. Get other businesses as sponsors, such as spas, caterers and health and fitness centers to help.”
Genevieve Schmitt, publisher of WomenRidersNow, an online magazine about women and motorcycling, echoes Leslie’s comments and adds her own ideas: “If you are marketing to women, you have to think outside the box of how you normally do marketing. Why not put on an event, like a ladies’ night, at your dealership or a motorcycle maintenance seminar? These events don’t have to cost a lot of money,” she says. “Think about your assets — make your parking lot available to your community for its use. Once you bring in your community, you will see new faces in your dealership.”
For example, you could offer your parking lot as the site of a women’s sports show to be put on through your local chamber of commerce or Rotary. Have a female sports celebrity give a talk, or have some of the local women motocrossers put on a stunt show. Get the local animal rescue group involved — puppies and kittens are always a draw.
The thought of putting on an event may be intimidating. Randy Twells, national accounts manager of Quick Throttle, suggests that you first think about other events you have gone to and think about what you liked and didn’t like about them. “Come up with a plan. Just like shooting a movie, all the parts have to come together. Put the plan in writing and give clear written assignments with deadlines. Make sure you have a schedule for when items must be completed.”
Schmitt also points out the importance of networking with other businesses in your area. “Think of your business as a member of your community. There’s a chamber of commerce or a Rotary Club or a downtown redevelopment association. Encourage them to meet at your customer lounge after hours.”
Although money may be tight, Schmitt urges you to “Keep up your charitable outreach. The goodwill that community service engenders has a halo effect. Women like supporting a business that supports charity,” she says. Supporting charity need not be expensive. You can offer storage for the annual toy drive, for example, or just offer coffee and cookies for volunteers at other events.
Partner with motorcycle safety courses. 53% of women riders have taken a safety course. By offering safety courses at your facility or sponsoring the local Motorcycle Safety Foundation classes, you associate your dealership with community service and safety ideas very attractive to women riders. You also have made your dealership one of the first contacts a woman has with motorcycling. Some dealers give small promotional prizes to each person who passes the class.
Clean up your act. Once a woman walks into your dealership the environment should be one where she can feel comfortable asking questions. “Garage parties create a non-intimidating environment, one where women are comfortable to ask and learn all about the bike as well as riding,” explains Karen Davidson, creative director for H-D’s General Merchandise department.
Schmitt points out that women are used to shopping in malls and expect your dealership to have a similar look. “Your dealership must be clean. Women pay attention to the appearance of your store and your staff.”
Show interest in the new customer. In discussions with women, both at the AMA convention and during the Selkirk Loop ride, the single most common complaint about dealership experiences was being either ignored or talked down to by sales staff. Can you afford to discourage customers?
A woman at a seminar said that she had the cash to purchase a specific motorcycle. She called the owner of a local dealership with questions. He took her phone number and promised to call her back with answers. The owner never called the woman back, and she bought the bike from another dealer 200 miles away.
“Train your staff. If a couple walks in, talk to the woman first,” Schmitt emphasizes. “Once women are in your store, they will spend money on parts and accessories — women hold the purse strings.”
Kathy Jo Porter, co-owner of Bend Euromoto, a Ducati dealership which has managed to thrive despite its rural Oregon location, shares tips on how to attract and retain women customers. “Establish who is the customer,” she says. “Remember, women are the fastest growing market segment. They are looking for a female-friendly culture.”
“Salesmen want to get the sale done. Women want to ask questions and think about their purchase. They are prepared shoppers and tend to do more research on their purchases. Don’t let your salespeople try to lead a woman to a little bike when she is interested in a sport bike or a tourer,” Porter says.
The Motorcycle Industry Council has two e-books posted on its Discover Today’s Motorcycling website (http://motorcycles.org): “The 10-Step Guide to Motorcycling” and “The Girl’s Guide to Moto Shopping.” Print out a few copies of these pamphlets and have them at your dealership. Your salespeople can use the information and concepts presented in these books to inform and communicate with new female riders.
Retain your new women customers. Listen to the women who come to your dealership. Susan Swan, long time rider and Thunder Press northwest bureau chief, believes listening to what customers want is one of the most important things you can do. “Listening is critical because what appeals to a woman in a rural setting or to a single mother might be entirely different than someone accustomed to more pampering. The answers may surprise too, so listening will be key.”
Do your salespeople know what they are selling? One of moto-journalist Pam Collins’ pet peeves is salespeople who don’t know their product. “I have walked into a dealership and found out I knew more about a bike or an accessory than the people who were there to sell it.”
“Women’s decision making process is different,” H-D’s Prevish says. “Trust is very important — women like to build trusting relationships. Further, research has shown that women make twice as many referrals as men. If you make the women who come to your dealership happy, they will be your best advertisements. Always remember to follow up — modern technology has made this a lot easier. Send postcards, birthday cards and thank you notes.”
For years, most motorcycle sales were to men. Now, one in eight of your customers may be a woman. Remember that this woman is a motorcycle enthusiast and wants to enjoy her ride and the road ahead, just like your male customers. If you treat her with the respect and courtesy due any rider, male or female, you can look forward to a long and rewarding customer relationship.