Building a Motorcycle Dealership Community

Building a Motorcycle Dealership Community

Reader note #1: It has come to my attention that if you are reading this on a smart phone my entire website does not display.  Among other horrors, this prevents you from clicking on and ordering any or all of my 8 books available from Amazon. You must go to on a computer to slake your thirst for essays and novels that feature (mostly) motorcycles.

Reader note #2:  As ever, what you are about to peruse is worth exactly what you are paying for it.

Now then…

A motorcycle dealership is not at all like a car dealership.  A car emporium tries to vend lots of metal, the more expensive the better.  Once the proud owner leaves, she or he will probably not return often, unless for service, and the service intervals for cars grow ever lengthier, so you must make your money at the time of purchase.

A motorcycle dealer moves a much lower volume of vehicles, at much lower prices, but with each motorcycle comes the real or perceived need to purchase helmets, apparel, boots, maintenance equipment, and on and on.  In addition, this “secondary purchase” environment will last forever, if you manage to not screw it up.

What you want to do is to create a community of customers who enjoy coming to your shop and are offered many opportunities to do so.  Harley dealers for years offered a riding club (usually H.O.G,) and frequent barbecues, live music, and so on.  Other brands do it a little differently.

When I went to work in the motorcycle business in 2000, my job description (which I wrote) was aimed at building such a community. Cycle Barn was a gargantuan enterprise for the motorcycle business, with multiple facilities, brands, and related businesses. The downside was that a customer (which I was) could feel she or he was entering a department store.  You don’t feel a sense of community in a department store. I wanted to make the user experience a small store visit in a very large store.

I attempted this in several ways.  I reformed a customer sport bike club that was rife with mismanagement, hazardous riding experiences, and misfeasance, malfeasance, and others feances.  This proved to be very successful, and pretty soon the sales manager was signing up every customer to the sport bike club. When he entered a scooter customer the need for diversification was clear.  Soon we had the sport bike club, a Triumph group, a cruiser club, a dirt bike club, a women’s group, and so on. Members could, of course, “cross pollinate” events.  Each club member got a monthly newsletter and frequent e-mails.  I also did a lot of events with the dealership H.O.G. chapter

When Cycle Barn opened a new and elaborate dealership the problem got worse. The new one I referred to (only to myself) as the “glass palace,” and it was impressive to the point of being intimidating.

In 2008 the economy collapsed.  Customers up to then could get a home equity loan all too easily and purchase pretty much any motorcycle, and overnight those loans evaporated, leaving the dealership with several hundred (!) motorcycles nobody could purchase.

Over the next two years the business bled red ink – a lot of it. Some of the satellite businesses (the go-kart store, the custom paint shop, etc.) were closed or sold off, and employee lay-offs grew ever more severe.  Eventually, an employee count of over 250 shrank to about 80.  At the end of 2009 I was laid off.

To my great fortune, I was “head hunted” in a matter of days and moved to Ride West, at that time a BMW dealer. My career continued for another three years, but over time my job was fiddled with and altered until eventually I realized I did not want to do it any longer, and I retired.

Last evening, I attended a dealer event at Triumph of Seattle, and they have done an amazing job of creating a customer community in a totally different way.  What I did would not work at T of S, for a couple of reasons.  Being close to downtown Seattle, they are land locked.  Leading customer rides would not work very well, because it would take an hour to get to fun roads, if you could keep the group together.  In addition, parking is in short supply, so large store events ask the customer to walk several blocks, in some cases, to reach to store.

But hats off to them for their success, indicated by a recent announcement at Triumph Dealer of the Year.  How is this done?

Facility: T of S is clean and neat and organized, but also “edgy.” Lots of exposed concrete and wood and other surfaces.  It has a very industrial and to some extent gritty feeling to it, which is perfect for motorcycles.

Staff:  A lot of the staff have worked for T of S since it was part of the Cycle Barn empire. Customers like to see faces they have seen before.  I don’t have any inside knowledge, but the staff all seem very happy to be working there.  Some of that can be ascribed to strong sales, but credit must go to the owner, who has assembled talented and loyal people and is evidently committed to keeping them happy. This is VERY hard to do.

Last night’s event really pointed this out.  The occasion was meant to reveal the new Scrambler with the 1200cc engine with water cooled-heads. A last-minute snafu meant that the “star of the show” bike would not be there.  I felt a pang at this, as I remembered similar occasional disasters for events I managed.

But here’s the kicker. Nobody seemed all that concerned. A food truck was on hand, and a DJ for tunes, and a bar with both hard drinks and a selection of beers.  I was amused and impressed to see that Rainier beer in cans (a low budget brand) was one of the selections.  Not everyone is a beer snob.

The place was packed, and most of the people were wearing one or more articles of Triumph clothing, hats, jackets, etc. Conversational groups were all over the store.  Friendships were both renewed and formed.

What was presented with the removal of the drapes covering them were a mildly offered Street Twin for 2019, and the same for the 2019 900cc Scrambler.  Really nothing to crow about, but crow the customers did.  In his announcements leading up to the reveal, the owner acknowledged the recent honor of Dealer of the Year, and gave full credit to “you guys.”

Smart man.

Now there is a fine excuse to have another party, probably in January or February, when the new Scrambler is available. I am sure the community that has been created will respond.

Few dealers realize that the sale of a motorcycle is not the end, but should be the beginning. It is the best and usually only opportunity to welcome a new member to an ever-growing, and profitable, community.  The ones who grasp this tend to do well.

Copyright 2018                       David Preston



About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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3 Responses to Building a Motorcycle Dealership Community

  1. Eric says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Dave. Pity more shops haven’t figured out how to build and keep their respective communities engaged.

  2. Dan E L Collins says:

    The landscape has certainly changed. The online meet up groups seem to be part of the change for the current generation, offering a less formal structure than years gone by. For some reason you article reminds me of some of the issues addressed in an old (2006) “The New Atlantic” article I read based on the book “Shop Class as Soul Craft” which I recommend if you have an inkling to read it. The book mentions the old “VW speed shop” culture that was created and the people and culture that were part of it.
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