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Wishing You a Vintage Holiday Season

Fall and winter can be slow for motorcycle retailers, but many dealers get a little boost around the holidays. “We aren’t Macy’s, but we do get an uptick,” says Tom Perkins, President of Dudley Perkins Co., San Francisco’s Harley-Davidson dealer. “We are the go-to choice for relatives who want to buy for their Harley fanatic.” One of the ways to encourage that uptick is to indulge the seasonal impulse towards nostalgia, and go vintage. 
“Classic design is clean, minimalist and timeless,” says Madina Merzhoeva, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the US Ural distributor, IMZ Ural. “That attracts an audience.” Promoting vintage motorcycles and items associated with old bikes can increase both foot traffic to your store and sales. Follow these helpful tips for ways you can implement vintage holiday themes throughout your dealership. 
Display customer’s restorations: Are some of your customers restoring older models of the bikes you now sell? Offer to post photos of the completed projects on your website or design a display with a nice classic as the centerpiece. “Every year in December I become a promoter,” says Randall Washington of Randakk’s Cycle Shakk, a retailer of parts and accessories for older Hondas. “My slow time is December, so I push tech tips and things my customers are doing on social media. Showing photos of finished restorations kicks people to get going on their own restorations. It drives business.”
Randall only has a website, while you have a whole store to set up a display in. A seasonal display featuring a vintage motorcycle or two gives people a reason to go to your store, despite the fact that it is too cold and wet to ride. Remember to announce the display on your website, on social media, and send an email blast to your customers.
Not only will the vintage display boost foot traffic, it will also encourage other people restoring bikes to visit you, seeking parts and services such as machine work and painting. Think you don’t sell vintage bike parts? Check with your OEM; you may be surprised how much is available for older models.
One dealer who does this on a yearly basis is Scott Dunlavey, the Berkeley, California Honda/Yamaha dealer. Scott is heavily involved with desert racing, which gives him access to interesting display bikes. “We have usually displayed vintage race bikes or Baja 1000 race bikes with a Christmas theme to spruce things up,” Scott says.
“With that, we try to add in vintage or classic Yamaha or Honda t-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, etc. It usually brings people to stop by and check it out and many times they buy a little something or even go ‘big’ and buy a kid a small dirtbike or ATV. Another big hit has always been DVDs – anything less than $40 to $50 that’s fun!”
Like Randall, Scott makes an effort to promote his business during the winter months. “We’ve always tried to make it ‘the place to be’ or visit during the holidays to keep the interest level going.”
Put your classic models forward: Many dealers sell vintage-looking bikes, such as Enfields and Urals, and these can be the centerpiece of your holiday display instead of, or in addition to, an authentic old bike. Sidecar outfits especially lend themselves to holiday décor. “Put Christmas gifts in the sidecar,” says Madina. “Sidecars have this genuine charm, they bring smiles, and people can imagine having a special moment riding together.”
Push Vintage Christmas presents from your OEM catalog: Many OEMs offer vintage themed items that make great holiday presents. These can be presented as part of your Christmas display. Studies repeatedly show that having samples of products on hand that customers can actually see and touch drives sales, so don’t just rely on showing people a photo in a catalog.
John Landstrom of Blue Moon Cycles, the Atlanta BMW dealer, sells lots of tin signs (“We can personalize them”) and stained glass roundels with the BMW logo. Tom Perkins says, “Clothing in general sells. We sell coffee mugs, watches, vintage style belt buckles, pins, patches and decals.”
Train your staff to be extra helpful to relatives and spouses who come to your store. They may come wandering in and seem a bit lost. “We show them the gift catalog, which has photos of motorcycles, and ask them to point to a bike that looks like the one the gift recipient has,” says John Landstrom. “We try to figure out what model the husband or relative has.
Guys with sport-oriented bikes want very different things than guys with tourers. In case of doubt, we suggest a gift certificate. Gift certs go over big.” “We always have and always will make an effort to help relatives and friends,” says Tom Perkins. “You never know when a relative will turn into a customer.” Tom has seen relatives walk in, looking to buy a present, and walk out with a quote on a Sportster and new-rider training brochures.
Hold a vintage-themed holiday show: Hold a crafts fair, and decorate your shop to echo Victorian England or the 1950s in middle America. Invite local artists and craftspeople, and also the local vintage clubs, who if given enough lead time, will show up with calendars and a couple of nice bikes. Allan Gorman ( is an artist who has recently started doing pop-up shows at motorcycle dealers, usually in conjunction with a dealer event, such as a new model roll out.
“I have been selling some prints,” Allan says. “It’s a nice addition to the event. I get a good reaction every time, and have made a lot of friends. It’s a win/win situation –  the paintings fit in with the environment and I bring in an audience that would not ordinarily go to a motorcycle dealer.” Gorman suggests adding a link to his website in any promotional material so that prospective event goers can get a preview of the art.
Help someone with a special present:Someone doing a restoration can spend a lot of time looking for a particular part, and you may have connections that can get it. Tony Dunn of Classic Cycles, Inc., a Southern California repair and restoration facility for British motorcycles, has had experience with spouses and friends who want to surprise their special someone with the part they have been looking for weeks. “I try to make sure that the customer who is buying the present knows what the customer wants. I tell them to look over his shoulder when he is on eBay.”
Some spouses and friends are good at gumshoe work, and know exactly what the exasperated restorer needs. If you know your customers well, you can be the one to supply the information the gift giver needs to find that very special present. “Sometimes I know a good customer of mine is looking for that magic part,” says Dunn.
“If you can help get the item that is holding up the restoration, you will win undying gratitude and word of mouth advertising that you couldn’t buy.” If the gift buyer is not good at sleuthing and doesn’t quite know what the motorcycle owner needs, the purchase of a specific part should be discouraged. Point out that a gift certificate will always be helpful and will not need to be returned.
Sell someone a classic motorcycle: You may have a classic bike on your floor for one reason or another, and the holidays are often the time you sell it. Tony Dunn and John Landstrom sell vintage motorcycles on a regular basis. John Landstrom displays older BMWs that his shop has restored. Tony Dunn always has a selection of consignment motorcycles, and well heeled customers often want to buy these motorcycles as Christmas presents. Sales to people who are going to give the bike as a gift present special challenges, so you must:
– First, make double sure that the bike is something that the person who is going to get the present actually wants. “I often sell a vintage bike as a Christmas present, but it always worries me,” says John Landstrom. “I ask the gift giver if they are absolutely sure that the bike is what the recipient had in mind. The supply of quality vintage bikes is limited, there are enough customers that I don’t have to worry about selling them.”
“I tell the gift giver to turn sleuth,” says Dunn. “What kind of bikes are pictured on the T-shirts he wears? How old is he? What does he already have in the garage? I can usually figure out what the guy would want, based on my experience and what the customer tells me.”
– Second, be prepared to take the bike back. “I offer a money back guarantee if the bike comes back a few days after Christmas in the same condition I sold it,” says Landstrom. “I remember one deal – I decided to be open on Christmas Eve for some reason and a church group came in, wanting to buy a motorcycle for their pastor. The deal took hours, it was a mess – and of course the pastor came back with the bike. However, he ended up exchanging it for another one.”
“A lifetime customer is worth more than one motorcycle,” says Dunn. “We tell the buyer that we will take the bike back if the guy doesn’t like it. We have people who drop a lot of money for Christmas, and if they are happy with how the deal went down, they will be back.”
Use vintage motorcycle images in your advertising to evoke an old fashioned Christmas. “Christmas is special, and one of the things that make it special is the family spending time together. Think of an old fashioned Christmas with everyone gathered around the tree,” says Ural’s Madina. Use images of vintage bikes, or vintage appearing bikes in your advertising to evoke that old fashioned feeling. Madina points out: “Urals not only look classic, but give people the experience, fun and adventure of motorcycling together.”
With a little effort and outreach, you can have a truly vintage holiday season, with jingle bells all the way to the bank.
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