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Feb. 13, 2006 – Victory’s growth remains in the fast lane

February 13, 2006
Filed under Features

To Mark Blackwell, the recent success of Polaris Industries’ Victory motorcycle is most evident at motorcycle shows he attends around the nation.
It’s there the vice president of Victory hears the difference in what the brand has become for the Minnesota-based manufacturer in relationship to where it started just eight years ago.
At that time, Blackwell would hear questions like “Who’s Victory?” and “Who makes Victory?” or even “What models do you have?”
Eight years later, the showroom comments have changed. Now they reflect the brand-awareness and customer satisfaction statistics that have Victory’s 2005 retail unit sales growing 10 times faster than the industry average, Blackwell said.
That’s why the motorcycle show comments have changed from questions to statements, such as “Victory’s going to be my next bike,” Blackwell said.
Although Victory remains a small player in the overall motorcycle market, about 2%, it continues to increase its sales. Polaris’ year-end earnings report stated that 2005 Victory sales had increased 34 percent to $99.5 million.
That success in the marketplace can be attributed to several factors, Blackwell said.
Brand awareness for Victory has increased dramatically, he said. Equally important to brand awareness for a new bike is customer satisfaction. Blackwell said an in-house survey showed 98 percent of customers were somewhat to extremely satisfied with the product.
“I’ve never seen numbers that high,” said Blackwell, who has been in the industry for more than 30 years. “Our customers are really, really, really happy with the products. What that means is when they’re happy, they tell their friends.”
Another key for Victory has been an improving dealer network, he said.
Blackwell said the size of the dealer network has not changed greatly, but the “quality of the new dealers I think is much higher.
“They really believe in the brand,” he said. “So they’re investing in the brand. They’re making money.”
Much of that success, Blackwell believes, can be traced to the 2003 Victory Vega. The earlier Victory motorcycles were good bikes, but lacked “a bit of style and visual appeal,” he said.
With the Vega, Victory went away from its retro look and adopted a more modern design. The following Kingpin, Hammer and Jackpot models followed with the newer look.
“We have a simple message,” Blackwell said. “We’re American and we’re new (looking) … everybody else is not American and looking old.”
The fact that Victory is American-made is vital in the marketplace, he said. Unlike the car industry, where many higher-income buyers trend to imports like BMX and Mercedes, the higher-income bike purchaser is “extremely patriotic, extremely loyal” to American-made products, Blackwell said.
In the coming years, Polaris will be expanding its Victory brand in Europe. Victory has been sold in the United Kingdom for the past four or five years, but in a limited scope.
“We kind of stubbed our toe there for the first year,” said Blackwell, noting Polaris did not have a very big dealer network in place, did not focus on the market enough and not surprisingly, did not sell many units.
That’s changing.
“We’re hitting the market with a more focused effort,” said Blackwell, who in November became vice president of international operations as well as vice president of Victory. “We’re already planning a rollout for Europe in 2008.”
Polaris is currently in the planning phrase for the Europe rollout, which could include different motorcycles than what are sold in the United States. Manufacturing of the bikes would probably remain in the United States, Blackwell said. psb

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