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Harley’s Putting it in High Gear to Attract Women

October 1, 2004
Filed under Features

On April 30, about 50 women arrived at Yellowstone Harley-Davidson in Belgrade, Mont., for an invitation-only ladies night event. Owner Ardi DeVries said, “I want to expand the number of women riders in my market. I think that sometimes women are a little intimidated about coming into a dealership so I wanted to create a comfortable environment just for women who are new to motorcycling.”
The three-hour event featured a presentation by DeVries on how she came to ride and acquire the dealership. Store manager Eric Albright talked about the rider training class that’s offered at the dealership, then invited the women out to the parking lot to watch him demonstrate how a rider training class is conducted.
How did DeVries measure the success of the event? “We had about a half a dozen women sign up for rider training. Of those, two women have purchased motorcycles, so that makes the event successful to me.” The sales clerks were busy ringing up items at the cash register all evening as well.
DeVries believes that many female motorcyclists ride because of the copycat effect. “These women will bring their friends, and then they’ll refer their friends. It’s sort of a snowball effect,” DeVries says. “You get a certain critical mass going and then it just keeps building. It’s a great place to start.”
DeVries couldn’t have timed her event any better: Harley-Davidson is in the midst of a wide-spread marketing push targeting potential women riders, hoping to bring them to the brand.
Reaching out to women in its publicity and marketing efforts is nothing new to Harley-Davidson. The company has a history of supporting and promoting female riders over the years, like it did when it got behind Vivian Bales in 1929. The 20-year-old rider from Georgia appeared on the cover of the Enthusiast magazine in 1929 which heralded her as the Enthusiast Girl when she rode 5,000 miles by herself promoting The Motor Company.
This recent push to attract women includes an insert in the Spring 2004 issue of the Enthusiast magazine. The five-page special section aimed at women is entitled, “Your Road Starts Here” and features short profiles of women who ride a Harley-Davidson and ways to get involved in the sport.
“The whole idea of being empowered, that it’s your motorcycle, is the message we were trying to get across,” says Kathleen Lawler, vice president of communications at Harley-Davidson. Ten percent of Harley-Davidson sales are to women.
A recent survey of Enthusiast readership (circulation just over a million), showed that 45% say that women read the magazine. “We felt this was an opportunity to convey to those women if they have an interest in motorcycling that they can do it, and here are a lot of women who have done it.”
Harley-Davidson also has reached out to women in recent months through a press tour in New York City in late April conducted by Lawler and her publicity team. They targeted the New York broadcast media, the morning shows and women’s general interest publications that have a profile of reaching independent minded, adventurous women with active lifestyles.
The presentation included information about Harley’s history with women riders, the trends in women buying motorcycles, an introduction to the Rider’s Edge program, and the MotorClothes line.
The female journalists who attended, many of whom were under 30 and had never ridden their own motorcycle, were then treated to a ride on the back of Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Lawler says, “We have a number of these journalists doing follow-ups.”
The biggest payoff of that press event so far has been two TV segments on Harley and women riders, one that aired on national Fox news, and the other, a four-minute segment on ABC’s Good Morning America.
“This is the best kind of advertising,” says Lawler. “Between our spokesperson, Rebecca (Bortner, a member of Harley’s press team) and all the positive comments made by the team on GMA, this is the kind of value you just can’t buy.”
The third piece of the female-targeted pie is a recent press introduction by Harley-Davidson aimed at female moto-journalists.
“When we do a new product launch we generally invite the editor of each publication to determine who should attend. Without the benefit of a specific event for women, we don’t believe we would have been able to have the women moto-journalists at this event,” explains Lawler. “Unless there is a editor at a senior level who happens to be a woman, they wouldn’t necessarily be personally exposed to our product.”
In early June,16 female moto-journalists gathered to test ride the new 2005 Harley-Davidson XL Sportster 883L and the 2005 Buell XB12Scg as well as other models in the Motor Company’s lineup. “We realize we didn’t have much contact with women journalists and have not been able to develop relationships with them because of the way the business works,” says Lawler. “We just thought it was high time to build that kind of relationship since it’s consistent with how we do business.”
Lawler believes having only women at a press launch will essentially create a higher level of awareness in the press of the trend of women moving from the back to the front seat, or to independently become more interested in motorcycling.
“The really nice thing about the event is that we had the chance to get to know each other as individuals despite all the special interests in motorcycling we each have. It was a very personal experience, very honest and very candid,” says Lawler.
Reaching out to women in that special and personal way is one of the keys to attracting more women to motorcycling.
DeVries even went so far as to make follow-up phone calls herself to the women who attended her ladies night event to invite them to sign up for a rider training class being held at her dealership. “I think personal contact with the dealer is really meaningful to customers.”

Genevieve Marie Schmitt is editor of Woman Rider magazine, an Ehlert publication, and a regular contributor to Powersports Business.

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