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Going beyond the pink jacket – February 12, 2007

February 12, 2007
Filed under Features

Every six to eight weeks, Harley-Davidson of Greenville (H-DOG), S. C., hosts a Garage Party to bring women into the world of motorcycle riding. Each event typically draws about 50 women. Some take part because they are tired of being a passenger and they are ready for a bike of their own. Others already ride but they want to learn more about an industry legend. And still others are complete novices who are pursuing a long-held dream.
H-DOG welcomes them all with open arms and not just because it’s a nice thing to do. These events sell bikes.
“We started doing Garage Parties last March, and since then I’ve probably sold between six-10 motorcycles as a direct result of these events,” said Donna Carman, one of the dealership’s sales team members.
The Harley-Davidson Co. launched its Garage Party concept last year. The women-only events are just one move Harley-Davidson has made toward luring more women into riding. The company also has an extensive line of women’s apparel and accessories, a section for women riders on its Web site and plenty of motorcycle models that are easily customized to meet any rider’s physique.
Other manufacturers also are paying attention, and rightly so. According to the most recent figures available from the Motorcycle Industry Council, while the overall number of motorcycle owners increased 16 percent between 1998 and 2003, the number of women owners increased by 34 percent during that period. One in 10 motorcycle owners now is a woman, while an estimated 4.3 million women either own or ride motorcycles.
Dealerships such as H-DOG that are taking these statistics to heart are reaping exponential rewards.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T
H-DOG’s Garage Parties are comprehensive hands-on events that give women an overview of motorcycling ownership, from sitting on the various models to trying on leathers, changing the oil and learning the correct way to pick up a dropped bike. Throughout, participants have plenty of opportunity to ask questions and envision how a bike fits their lifestyle. That’s key when selling to women, according to industry expert Genevieve Schmitt, founder of WomenRidersNow.com.
“When it comes to buying a motorcycle and the gear that goes with it, a woman’s purchasing decision isn’t so much about how much money she will spend as it is about how the purchase is going to fit into her life,” Schmitt said. “How will the purchase of a bike, the clothing and the gear make her life better.”
As a result, a woman might initially be less drawn to a particular brand name and more open to taking the time to find out which brand and model best fits her need. Her purchase will seldom be an impulse. A woman might make several trips to the dealership before buying, and she also will do her homework, searching the Internet and getting recommendations from friends.
When she makes her purchase, a good experience with the dealership and the brand will typically result in long-lasting loyalty and powerful word-of-mouth marketing. When women share their enthusiasm with friends and family, sales go up.
“A lot of our lady customers are loyal because we do take care of them,” said Mike Bedeaux, sales manager at Leo’s South, a powersports dealership in Lakeville, Minn. “We just had a lady in to buy another BMW — she and her friends have probably bought seven or eight bikes from us. They know that we aren’t going to try and sell them something they don’t need.”
Loyalty can start even before the purchase. Schmitt tells of a Honda dealer who, after hosting a Ladies Night event, sold bikes to two women who hadn’t attended the event but heard about the dealership from their female friends.
“That’s testament to the power of a woman buyer,” said Schmitt.
While women events have proven their effectiveness, if for some reason a dealer doesn’t think a women-only event is warranted, Schmitt recommends scheduling family events to get women in the door. Bring in the Easter bunny or Santa Claus, for example, to help the dealership become a community focal point.
Another way dealers can reach out to women is to invite women rider groups to meet in their community lounge or other customer areas. The relationship can be informal so the dealer has no liability.
“And guess what?” Schmitt said. “The dealer now has four or five women hanging out there on a Saturday morning and what are they going to do? Buy things.”
In addition to special discounts, sales and seminars to bring women into the showroom, Leo’s also will purchase a year’s membership in Women on Wheels (WOW), the oldest national organization for women motorcycle riders, for women when they buy a motorcycle. Leo’s has been named Dealer of the Year more than once by WOW for this and its other efforts in support of women riders.
“Last year, they bought more than 60 memberships,” said Lois Wyatt, vice president of WOW, based in Atlanta, Ga.
Not so different
It shouldn’t need to be stated, but unfortunately it still happens that salespeople are sometimes rude to women, to the detriment of the dealership.
“I just had a niece go into an auto dealership where she was treated unfairly. At Leo’s we treat everybody the same,” said Bedeaux.
“You don’t have to treat women better than men, but certainly don’t treat them worse. Just respect them.”
One way to make that respect clear is to have women on staff other than in the back room. Schmitt recommends that at the very least, dealers wanting to cater to women have a woman salesperson in the apparel department. If they don’t have a clothing area, have a woman behind the parts and accessories counter
“That means the woman has to be knowledgeable about P&A,” she said. “You have to have somebody on the floor who is female.”
For dealerships too small to have a women’s clothing section, Schmitt suggests putting both male and female mannequins right up front dressed in the latest colors and styles of motorcycle apparel.
“That tells me right away that I’m welcomed,” she said.
Of course, the biggest issue for women interested in riding is finding the right bike. Long-time rider Renate “Rain” Neitzold, editor of Biker’s Alley in Davis, Ill., takes issue with the general idea of a motorcycle designed especially for a woman.
“A bike is a bike, whether you are a guy or a girl. There are smaller statured men and larger women, so making a bike just for woman — I just don’t see it,” she said.
What’s more important is dealers ensure that they have a variety of models on the showroom to fit a variety of body types. Whether the potential customer is a woman or a man, they won’t buy a motorcycle if they don’t like the way it sits. psb

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