[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ike many dealers, you have watched the growth of the vintage movement over the last 20 years with interest and possibly some alarm.
You may wonder that, if people are fascinated by old bikes, will they still be interested in new ones? It’s possible that you even have a classic bike in your own garage. But – have you ever thought about the relationship of your dealership to the vintage bike owners in your community?
“Relationship” is a common buzzword these days, often used to mean a completely artificial connection between people or companies. However, you, your crew and the local classic bike enthusiasts have a real connection. All of you love motorcycles – some newer, some older, but all running on two wheels. The trick is to take that connection in a direction that benefits both your dealership and people in the surrounding area with old bikes. “We want our classic bike enthusiasts to be regular and interested customers,” says Lance Sueoka, general manager of Rocket Motorcycles, San Diego.
One of the best ways to build that positive relationship with the classic bike crowd is to build a reputation in the community as a resource for owners of vintage bikes related to your OEM. If you sell Hondas, you can expand your customer base by catering to owners of the classic Twins and Fours of the ‘60s and ‘70s, which are now surging in popularity. If you sell Ducatis or Moto Guzzis, more people will come to you if it becomes known that you have resources for older Italian bikes.
“We are a one stop motorcycle shop for our small town,” says Harry Aced, Internet sales manager for Hollister Powersports in Hollister, California.
“If someone comes to us for help, we are going to do what we can to help that person. We are all motorcyclists. I have spent over 40 years building my own vintage bikes, but all of us know where to go for answers. We have a well-rounded, educated staff who know new and old bikes.”
Here are five steps to building that relationship:
(1) DO YOUR RESEARCH.
Find out if the local vintage folks have a regular meeting place. Show up, but stay in the background and listen. Get copies of the national and regional newsletters for clubs that celebrate your target classic bike, which are increasingly available online. For example, if you sell Yamahas, look up the Classic Japanese Motorcycle Club and the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club. See who advertises in their magazines.
Talk to one of the local people who works on old bikes. What you are looking for is ways to interface. Can you order parts from your OEM? Many OEMs have a surprising variety of vintage bike parts, especially engine parts. Do you work with a distributor who has old bike parts? Do you have facilities (for example for resurfacing tanks and other components or for machine work) that are in demand? Are there rallies, swap meets or vintage races in your area that you can sponsor? If you sponsor on- or off-road racers, is someone racing vintage that needs a sponsor?
(2) TRAIN YOUR STAFF.
Many parts people have a kneejerk reaction when someone comes in needing a part for an unusual bike. This kneejerk reaction, “We don’t carry that,” is guaranteed to make you enemies and lose you customers. Bookmark online catalogs from SUDCO, EMGO, Speed and Sport, and other companies that sell parts.
Chad Thompson, salesman for SUDCO, states that he frequently gets calls from people with bikes dating from the late 1990s or early 2000s who can’t get parts for their bikes at dealerships because the parts person won’t bother to check for availability. “The Japanese factories have parts available for their motorcycles dating back many years, and their parts catalogs are available online.
I do the dealer’s work on a regular basis.
I look up the part, give the person the part number and tell them to go back to their dealer and tell the dealer to order the part.” Chad and SUDCO are now heroes to the customer. Guess who is the zero. “Why do I do it? I am making a long-term friend who will buy from
me someday,” explains Chad. “The person will tell all their friends how helpful SUDCO was, which is the best kind of free advertising. Plus, we all ride, and we should want to help each other.”
Lance of Rocket Motorcycles suggests that dealers carry a selection of “perishable parts” (points, cables, oil filters) for old bikes that are popular in their community. “It doesn’t cost much, and the fact that you have a clutch cable on hand to replace the one that broke will make someone really happy.”
(3) CREATE A REPAIR POLICY.
“I encourage people to work on their old bikes themselves,” says John Clayton of San Jose BMW. “Part of the joy of owning an old machine is working on it. I educate the customer to work on their bike themselves. It’s the Zen of being in your garage.”
Like most dealerships, San Jose BMW doesn’t work on whole old bikes. “A can of worms,” says John. “You never know what you will find in there, and you will often spend hours unfreezing frozen bolts.” However, the dealership does work on components of old bikes- once the owner has disassembled the component from the frame. The shop specializes in rebuilding air-cooled BMW cylinder heads from the ‘70s and ‘80s and often rebuilds transmissions from the same era.
In keeping with the small town ethic, Hollister Powersports works with a technician who does work on Shovelhead Harleys, and points people in his direction. “We have an educated staff and have the knowledge of where to send people,” says Harry.
Rocket Motorcycle’s Lance Sueoka suggests that if you work with people who do painting, plating or machine work, you might tell the customer that you will take the part in and work on it – if the customer does the disassembly. You can then subcontract the work. “That way you can share the profit,” he says.
(4) PARTICIPATE IN CLUB EVENTS.
If you have your own restored bikes, show them at club vintage rallies – and also bring a new bike with vintage heritage in the design. Hollister Powersports brings its collection of military motorcycles to shows and rallies, including the very prestigious Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel, Calif. Being part of the show puts the dealership’s name in front of several thousand people, many of whom are squarely in the demographic for one of Hollister Powersports’ brands – Indian Motorcycles.
“Indian motorcycles are attractive to vintage motorcycle people. A lot of the over-55 crowd always wanted a classic Indian, but have no mechanical background,” says Aced. Unlike advertising on the Internet, radio or print publications, show and rally participation puts you, and a motorcycle you sell, right in front of potential customers.
(5) SPONSOR A VINTAGE RACER.
Matt Hilgenberg of Speed and Sport, Inc. sponsors several racers. “You don’t need to buy them a bike. They already have a bike.” Matt continues, “What they need is consumables – spark plugs, oil and tires. You will gain attention at events and win over potential customers who gather around – other bike owners will come by and talk to you. They will be interested in the bike whether or not it wins races. By helping a racer with their old bike, you will generate happiness and gain gratitude among owners of similar bikes who want to see a bike like theirs out racing. That happiness and gratitude translates into new bike sales. Remember, almost all owners of old bikes have a new bike.”
“Sponsoring riders or events gets your name out there with people who ride,” says Chad. “Brand recognition is very important these days.”
“There is a terrific social aspect to the classic bike movement,” says Lance. “Other people are interested in classic bikes as a hobby. Instead of building a model airplane or boat, they build their model and then they can ride it around. People will naturally support someone who supports their social activities and is part of their community.”
The vintage movement is large, growing and not going away. Making friends with people is usually a good idea. Making friends with potential customers is always a good idea. Learn to make friends with classic bike owners and chances are you’ll see your profits rise.