Motorcycle Sales – How can manufacturers and dealers recruit more riders?

AN INDUSTRY IN TRANSITION – The motorcycle business…manufacturers, distributors, suppliers and after-market players are all struggling according to recent media reports and various financial reports. Future sales forecast data by the big manufacturers (OEMs) are weak. So, what’s a motorbike manufacturer and their distributors to do? Here are my thoughts…

Sales Basic#1 – Target the already licensed population.

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that there are near 8 million Americans who have a motorcycle license but don’t own a bike.

In California alone, the country’s largest motorcycle market, there are more licensed motorcyclists without a motorcycle than there are licensed riders who currently own one. According to a 2014 Motorcycle Industry Counsel Survey, 1.7 million Californians held licenses to operate motorcycles but only 847,937 motorcycles were registered in the state. I suspect a similar correlation exists today in 2018.

Think about this for a moment…8,000,000 licensed-qualified prospects want to ride and the industry is struggling to sell them bikes? Basic observation: The industry’s traditional marketing and sales model is obviously outdated and nowhere near as effective as it should be given the pool of ready-to-ride licensed holders.

OEMs are making great bikes that people want to ride but they are perceived as just too expensive so are avoided. There’s a reason we’re all asking how much is a second hand motorbike worth? I agree the price to ride value equation has gotten out of whack but I believe the real problem is bad communication from OEMs and dealerships on the value of motorcycle ownership.

Goal: Identify the licensees by zip code, create campaigns to show them some love, provide attractive reasons to motivate them to visit dealerships and twist some throttle.

Sales Basic #2 – Go International faster!

Today’s marketplace is worldwide and the OEMs know it. Harley-Davidson executed against its long-term objective to build the next generation of Harley-Davidson riders globally in 2017 adding 57 new international dealer points. The company also maintained its number one 601+cc motorcycle market share position in countries including the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia and India for 2017.

Marketing Basics #1 – Manufacturers…suggest you all give serious consideration to the following actions.

> Strategy – Re-think your overall marketing strategy. Adopt an “experience marketing” mindset.

OEMs have got to do more to increase awareness of the motorcycling experience.

A more robust and effective media advertising and rider engagement strategy is required by manufacturers. One that complements and enhances the marketing efforts of their dealers. For example, data gathered from consumer insights suggests that motorcycle companies absolutely need to be taking more steps to embrace digital marketing techniques. Social media for example provides a fantastic platform to gather data about potential customers. Besides, there’s so much excitement and fun to motorcycles! Every facet of the rider experience is amazing in my book and that has got to be better communicated to a wider group of aspiring riders both online and offline.

When was the last time you saw a 30 second TV commercial showing a group of riders enjoying a ride together down a scenic mountain road or parking their motorcycles in front of their favorite breakfast diner on a weekend morning?

> Invest in “Experience Marketing”.

OEMs and dealerships need to begin proactively championing motorcycling as part of the great outdoors that can be enjoyed by the entire family. The kids overtime, with early exposure to positive motorcycle experiences, will themselves likely be buyers of bikes as they get older and introduce the sport to their children. I highly recommend OEMs at least double their marketing and sales budgets to promote motorcycling as a recreational outdoor experience that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

> Positioning & Promotion – The open road…guess what, it still matters.

Exploration, travel and adventure is part of the human experience in all age groups. Millennials love travel and adventure. There’s no better way to experience the rawness of it all than from the seat of a motorcycle.

Get on the open road this summer…Explore America on two or three wheels. Click image for the Top 15 motorcycle roads in the U.S..

> Influence Marketing 101 – Get your lobbyists to “lobby” harder and faster.

Lobbyists play a major role in an organized attempt to influence legislators. Every topic from transportation infrastructure and planning to making lands available for enduro riding to keeping the EPA off our backs are areas lobbyists can help the motorcycle industry. Can anyone even name an OEM lobbyist?

Imagine if you will, a strong motorcycle lobby at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC?

> Influence Marketing 102 – Lobby aggressively against distracted driving.

How much time, money and effort are OEMs allocating to curtailing this dangerous cager habit? I believe the distracted driver epidemic is scaring away a significant amount of new riders from enjoying the great sport of motorcycling? Best I can tell, OEMs have had their heads in the sand on this issue. But yet there are many companies and organizations trying to make the roads safer from distracted driving, especially the likes of different California traffic school options available for those looks for further driving education.

Because motorcycles are wide open, we riders find ourselves at an increased risk of injury in the event of an accident…that risk is compounded significantly when you add distracted drivers. If you find yourself in a motorcycle accident, it’s worth contacting Attorney Ray Areshenko at REA Law in Reno, Nevada. This way you can find out if you’re entitled to maximum compensation and claim it.What are OEMs doing about distracted driving? Does anyone know? Please add your info in the comments section at the end of this post.

Manufacturing Basic #1 – OEMs must decrease manufacturing costs!

MSRPs are too high for today’s and tomorrow’s financially challenged prospect customer. Keep increasing MSRPs annually and you will lose more potential riders to other recreational alternatives. Basic observation: Your operating cost structure is contributing, even killing local dealership sales before bikes even hit the dealer’s showroom floor. Simplify your offerings…decrease complexity…Do what you must to reposition your costs. Only a minority of potential riders want technical dashboard complexity, Picasso caliber paint work and/or opera level speakers, let alone pay for it. Many just want to ride quality motorcycles.

Motorcycle Dealers – My 2-cents advice for you.

> Training – Review your customer experience training budgets.

Are they realistic or even sufficient to develop a more customer sensitive motorcycle dealership visit experience.

I have visited hundreds of motorcycle and powersports dealership in many different parts of the world during my riding lifetime. Today, I rarely go on rides without making a stop or two at dealerships. Some visits are pleasant some not so much. For example:

Basic dealership visitor etiquette, such as just being polite and offering a welcoming smile, seems to occur only 50% of the time. While powersports dealership employee attitudes have come a long way over the years, still too many exhibit a negative/bad attitude in my opinion. It’s as if they don’t understand the impact of great customer experiences on their employer’s bottom line.

I admire motorcycle dealers like San Diego Harley-Davidson and motorcycle repair shops like Ron Bishop Motorcycles in Escondido, California. They take customer satisfaction very seriously, and invest in well-trained team members. From all I’ve seen and have experienced, they commonly go beyond just “satisfying” customers. They actually go all out to make potential customers feel at home when visiting their businesses. They even thank people for “dropping by” and visiting.

Still, as they say, you’re only as good as your last customer facing performance. In a world of online reviews and social media, the only way to grow profitably is to consistently exceed the expectations of all customers – men, women, minorities. Dealerships won’t be selling many motorcycles, services and accessories for long if they don’t.

Declutter your Showrooms

Simpler with more space between bikes is key. If a customer or prospect can’t walk between your motorcycles, put up the kickstand and sit happily on your inventory then your bikes are too close together.

Clean up your showrooms and every corner of your dealership…some recent powersports dealerships I’ve seen are messy looking and darn right unattractive. Remember, the whole family needs to be made to feel welcome and “part of the family”.

The dealership motorcycle showroom lineup…works for experienced motorbike pros like me…the new rider? Feels intimidated with so much choice. ImageSource: SDHD

> Diversity & Inclusion

Motorcycle dealerships, especially powersports-oriented dealers, must develop new marketing and sales approaches that will attract women and minority riders. There’s simply too much business opportunity with these two groups to not make them a developmental priority going forward.

The Bottom Line

There are an estimated 9.0 million motorcycles registered in the U.S. today, according to the Statistical Portal. The Motorcycle Industry Council estimates that the percentage of U.S. households with at least one bike has settled around 6.8% since 2008. Harley-Davidson wants to add 2.0 million new riders over the next decade…what do the other OEMs want to do?

OEMs have a responsibility to elevate the visibility of riding. They have the responsibility for working hand-in-hand with their dealers to create family-friendly riding opportunities. They have a responsibility to train their dealers to be more customer friendly. They have the responsibility to promote safe riding conditions on streets, roads and highways everywhere. They have a responsibility to lower manufacturing costs so that they can bring bikes to market that people can justify buying.

Dealers have the responsibility for bringing the fun back into buying new motorcycles. Yes, OEMs and dealerships…The future of motorcycling is in your hands.

Me, I will continue to promote the great sport of motorcycling with my thousands of social media followers in the hopes that someone somewhere will be inspired to get on a bike and ride.

Ride Safe Out There…

About Motorcycle Marc – I’m a motoblogger, some say a motorcycle evangelist, an industry influencer, ambassador and sponsor. I prefer to ride motorcycles but when I can’t ride I blog about it. Since 2009, I’ve developed a strong, dedicated following of thousands of gearheads, motorheads, biker-wannabes and 2-wheeled adventurers who love motorcycles and everything motorcycle-related. Welcome to my world – Marc J. Beaulieu (MJB)

Note: Copyrights and Trademarks are the property of their owners. No infringement ever intended. Some of the material for this blog was gathered from numerous articles and websites available in the public domain. Manufacturer Names, Logos, Photos/Images, Websites, Links and Model Information are Registered Trademarks of the Manufacturer and/or Organizations represented. Also, note that specifications and any information in this blog is subject to change without notice. No representation of accuracy is made.


  1. Michael L. says:

    Good comments in this article. How much of Harleys problems do you think is due to their leaders riding down the wrong road?
    Leaders are always responsible for their company’s direction and results Michael. Fact is, they are accountable for the company’s financial life and success. The Motor Company’s financial performance has struggled over the past several years and leadership is responsible.
    P.S. Thank you for reading my blog Michael. — MJB

  2. Eric H. says:

    Hey Motorcycle Marc, you’ve just provided manufacturers with a simple marketing solution. Do you think they are able to get it done?