What is wrong with the motorcycle industry?

Motorcycle industry dealer showroom deal

The motorcycle industry needs to advertise more, spruce up its dealerships and reach out to non-riders, says an Australian riding veteran.

His comments follow our recent article in which a Wall St researcher suggested sharing and leasing motorcycles to address the worldwide decline in sales.

We have respected the writer’s wish to remain anonymous because he fears it may affect his job prospects. 

Do you agree with his assessment of the Australian motorcycle industry? Leave your comments at the end of his article.

Top 10 motorcycle industry sales
Australian 2017 first-quarter motorcycles sales figures form the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industry

Motorcycle sales across the globe are in decline, with slight rises here and there in small sectors like dirt bikes or luxury bikes. The underlying problem, as lamented by many manufacturers, is the lack of newer customers as their existing customers either grow too old for bikes or die, or sell them as life situations dictate.

But for the most part in Australia, I don’t see the manufacturers helping themselves. The adage of “motorcycles are a luxury purchase” in the West is often trotted out as a reason for motorcycles being subjected to the whims of fashion or varying levels of debt crises. But I mainly put this down to a lack of advertising.

Advertising

Millennials will buy motorcycles, you just have to start getting your product seen in other forms of media. I remember a TV advert from a while ago, for Suzuki. They started with a Hayabusa gracefully arcing along a country road only for it to gently morph into … a small sedan!

Seriously.  A sedan? In one 30 second TV ad they destroyed what was the absolute pinnacle of hyperbikes, the apex predator of the early Noughties, the bike that put them back on the map and reduced it to playing second fiddle to a small sedan. It was at that point I realised the industry, as a whole, just doesn’t care.

I get it, you manufacture vehicles in bulk. But crossing those two vehicles did nothing to benefit either and damaged the Hayabusa. What ad agency came up with that? What’s their next big beige idea? A Kawasaki H2 that morphs into a Camry and wheezes along a congested road?

Nice.

Fire these people immediately. 

I haven’t seen any learner motorcycle targeted visual ads on TV or mass media either. Sure learners are buying them, but those are very dedicated people who actively research those bikes on the internet. I doubt many of those spontaneously saw a motorcycle on an advert and thought, “Why not? I’ll give that a go!”.

Let’s look at the most basic form of advertising. 

Print advertising

I know it can be expensive to take out a full page ad or even get a banner at the bottom of the page, but open any paper and you will see a lot of cars from prominent manufacturers. Well-shot photos, eliciting a desire for these shiny automobiles and the lifestyle status they represent, right down to appealing to the “money-saving” advantages of their brand.

Now, how many motorcycle adverts in papers have you seen? Genuine dedicated adverts for the latest models? I’d wager none. Breitling, a luxury watch maker often features adverts for $35k watches in papers, so don’t try to tell me asking $20k for a top-of-the-line machine won’t be feasible. No motorcycle marque is even approaching the possible customer who may be looking at an escape from the sweaty sardine-like train they are crammed on. Most cars are sold on the premise of imagination. How many are on an empty road or city? The reason for this is escapism.

Media motorcycle industry advertising
Media use figures don’t back up print advertising. (Roy Morgan Research from interviews in 2017 with 15,220 Australians aged over 14.)

Everyday people pick up a magazine or newspaper on their commute and see these ads either consciously or unconsciously and it instils brand awareness. How many waiting rooms are full of Cleo, Women’s Weekly, Men’s Health, Footy magazines, Reader’s Digest … The list goes on. You don’t have to advertise your bike in motorcycle mags only, broaden your approach and you can draw those curious about your product.

Radio

Media motorcycle industry advertising
Roy Morgan Research from interviews in 2017 with 15,220 Australians aged over 14.

Very few motorcycle dealerships have done this. I clearly remember a TeamMoto advert playing over the radio when the family and I were stuck in some traffic jam on the M1. The ad was perfectly timed as I knew in that moment I would have preferred to be on my bike, but understood that I had three other people I had to move. How many cars are full of just one person driving somewhere? Two-third I’d wager. This was the only radio advert I have heard in 16 years of driving.

Pop ups 

Here’s a big, big annoyance of mine. How often have you gone into a shopping centre and seen several shiny new cars on display in the middle of the floor? Customers crawling all over them, asking questions, building an initial contact with the dealer representative. I have seen it so many times, I’ve lost count. This is a big fault with motorcycle marques and dealerships. Sure, not everyone who asks for a brochure or sits in the driver seat is going to buy one, but I can guarantee that if the experience was pleasurable, they will associate good feelings and trust with either that brand or the presenting dealer.

Why doesn’t Kawasaki have a H2 or three on display, or Suzuki have a GSXR in a selfie booth, or Honda with a Fireblade on a plinth, Ducati with some of their WSBK-winning models in limited colours and some merchandise in a pop up? Let the public come close and look, feel and ask about their models. Big-name marques never or rarely do this. Ask any non-motorcyclist to name one brand of motorcycle and chances are “Harley Davidson” will roll of their tongue and maybe “Honda” too. Why?

Sons of Anarchy motorcycle industry
Sons of Anarchy was a huge hit
  1. Outlaw MCCs, Orange County Chopper, Sons of Anarchy, South Park-style shows and media saturation. Not always in a positive light, and
  2. My postie rides a little red Honda along the foot path, dressed in fluoro.

That’s why. Most wouldn’t know Suzuki makes bikes. They know they make the Swift, but what’s a Hayabusa they would ask. Kawasaki? You’d get blank stares or a “bless you” in return. 

Where the hell is the customer facing point on these marketing teams? All well and good to show your bikes at the annual bike show, but usually only die-hard motorcyclists are going to those. Suzuki recently did a model night, a good start, but barely anyone outside of diehard bikers would either know about it, or attend a bike showing after hours.

If nobody but motorcyclists or brand loyalists know about your events or new releases, no new customers or bike-curious passers-by will even know you sell bikes.

Dealerships

This one kind of ties in with Pop-Ups. I get it, you need floor space, and somewhere industrial you can make some noise and test bikes after services. The only problem this has — and it ties in with customer awareness — is that often dealerships are in the middle of nowhere. Some far-flung industrial estate, several kilometres away from new/potential customers. Some dealerships you have to drive to, and then there is no or not enough parking resulting in some having to “come back another day when it’s not so crowded”. If there is no public transport, there goes another line of customers.

Motorcycle industry dealer showroom deal
Brisbane Indian Motorcycle dealership is in a mainstream motor vehicle retail area

Sunday trading

Not being open Sundays. I get it, Sunday riding is the best with mates and so on, but most people work 9-5 Mon-Fri. Then you have a 10-3pm Saturday hours that leaves you very, very little time for a customer to peruse the floor, get a feel for the bike, and buy some gear. The customer has some really impractical hours (yours) that they have to meet in order to buy an item or look at a bike in the flesh. And you wonder why people buy online? Can you imagine the customer who has a Sunday free and would like to go look at your bikes? Maybe ask a few questions? Possibly buy some kit? Start opening both weekend days and you just might see some new and repeat customers come in and use your store.

I don’t know of any customers that have the urge to spend Monday or Tuesday wandering your sales floor. Those that have money to purchase a bike, are working those days usually.

Three-quarters of dealerships in Australia aren’t known to anyone but motorcyclists. I’d wager it’s only very determined new/curious riders that seek them out. They’re selling a lifestyle, so they need to be seen by more people to get more customers.

Shop displays

Motorcycle industry dealer showroom deal customer
Morgan & Wacker has a tasty display of bikes

Look at high-end luxury car dealers. Do you see the cars packed in door to door? Do you see rain-streaked and dusted cars jumbled together in no particular order? No? The only yards you see like that sell cheap second hand cars. Prestige or premium models are displayed clearly where the eye can view them in the best light. 

What do the inside of most motorcycle stores look like? Industrial shelving; painted cinder-block walls; dull fluoro lighting; and cheap office furniture and chairs that wouldn’t be out of place in a backyard BBQ. The customer has to meander through a rabbit warren of bikes jutting out across the floor. the parts counter has everything cluttered on the wall behind them like a carnival stall. There are cheap and nasty posters from old bike mags blu-tacked on to the walls. There are no brochures at hand a customer can take. People like brochures, people love a shiny brochure that makes them feel good about wanting that sparkling new machine. Is the riding apparel neatly laid out, in separate sections, with ample mirrors? Does the selection of goods reflect the tone of the brand they’re selling? Are they of a good quality and match the bikes available?

Serious questions. Most dealerships look like dollar stores in their layout. This jumbled, un-organised layout immediately puts people off. People are interesting creatures, they like order. Yet they crave something cosy. Clean, clear and organised shows them the retailer knows what is going on. It instils confidence in the brand and makes the dealership feel professional. It also creates an “experience”. Something they will go back to. Somewhere they will feel comfortable about coming back to, to buy more stuff after the bike purchase. 

Look at an apple store. That sells expensive technology. But look at it. Those stores are always packed. Even if the customer can buy it online or through a re-seller, it builds that brand face. It allows the customer to feel like they are part of the brand. Apple at this point is a lifestyle product and just having an iPhone subconsciously signals what you like. There is a reason people associate Apple’s design with an experience.

Message to industry

If the industry really, really wants to make headways, encourage newer customers, and be seen as an actual alternative to cars as a transport option or personal statement, it needs to pull its finger out and start appealing to people. 

Grom stars Lowndes and BeattieGrom stars Lowndes and Beattie motorcycle industry
Lowndes and Beattie starred at the Grom launch

Honda has the Grom, so for the life of me I can’t figure why the Grom launch in Melbourne was so lack-lustre. Sure for press launches they do a mini-gymkhana event for journos overseas, with a couple of prizes. That’s good. But in Australia? The effort was woeful. Docklands has enough space, maybe a mini-motard track setup with food trucks a stunt display team, and few sponsor displays with some actual hype for these things. Heck, even a “free to try” section like HD do with their rolling-road setup would give non-riders something to play on.

That event should have had stickers, shirts, and a selection of bikes to sit on, promo girls, factory team riders and food trucks. If you aren’t going to engage your customer, don’t expect them to want to develop an affinity for your brand.

I’d honestly love to hear from the manufacturers on this. Most manufacturer websites are really, really poor. Some of the blandest product pictures with an un-inspiring layout. Honda’s site looks like an after-thought that is selling appliances. Three pictures of the bike you’re looking at is down-right terrible. Fire your marketing teams. Fire your website designers.  Start supporting and encouraging your dealers to enthusiastically sell your product, your brand and your heritage.

18 Comments

  1. I, and some mates, gave up on the return to motorcycling yearning after we spent many hours and days researching online and visiting dealerships. Firstly the industry and most reviewers and testers are fixated on road motorcycles performing like or appearing like a race track bike.
    Secondly the options for reasonably comfortable torquey bikes with moderately effective fairings are few and far between – road bikes with a riding position that does not bend the legs too much and has a slight lean forward to the handlebars.
    Bikes that were considered were: V-strom 650, Versys 650 – however these were too tall for a middle age men with knee and hip issues, as well as the ride position being almost bolt upright. The newer Honda 500 twin and Honda 650 four were either too cramped in the seat or footpegs were too high or poorly positioned for hours of comfortable riding. Cruiser style bikes have even less going for them.
    I can assure the people who bother to read this without feeling the need to attack and shame the writer, there are many former riders who would love to return to bikes if the choice of motorcycles meeting the abovementioned criteria were available.

  2. Well I said Motorcycle industry one of the most arrogant, far worse that car industry…..

    I try to buy Yamaha Xmax 300 scooter , no one even bother try to sell me the the bike for 7 month not even bother to pre-order even I agree with their price , 1 dealer even said dont touch that bike , that sold , and lied about service interval.

    When Honda Forza 300 come out, I just decide try to buy this also even its $1000 more expensive , surprise surprise same shit happen,

    Lucky after 2 month small dealer called Escape Honda , agree to talk, that must be the easiest sale he have, after small test question and discount, deal in 5 minutes , even trough I never see this bike let alone test ride it.

    same experience I have try to buy its smart top box. no one can give information , even Honda Australia cannot help, or willing to sell.

    another bad experience for 1000 km service , NO ONE agree to service unless I buy from them even its not free service.

    Well all this shit is not acceptable even in Car industry. some even drop you off to City while your car is in service.

  3. The ‘Hay Day’ period of Motorcycling was said to be the 20 -30 years after WW2. The shopping hours versus work hours were nowhere as good as today. So don’t quote that one as a reason.
    After WW2, people worked a 5 1/2 week and got Sunday off. Bikes and sidecars were the affordable Family car for many, and why ? Because they were affordable. Sunday was for Church and visiting Family.
    Now bikes are very dirt cheap in relative terms, actually throw items. So what changed is people’s recreational time has been expanded into new activities unheard of 30 years ago.

    Racecourse’s have been a dud for years, but were very popular post war for the 1/2 day off crowd.
    I got interested in motorcycles in 1970’s due to a constant little ad run by Qld Suzuki Distributor Mayfairs who ran a little b & w 75 mm square ad at the bottom right front page of daily The Courier Mail which depicted a waiting line at a Bus Stop while the little scooter buzzed past with the rider in a suit holding his briefcase.
    As Dr Geobbles knew, and Trump now does, if you repeat something often enough, it will become fact in peoples minds. Selling motorcycles is no different.

  4. I’m not so sure about the owners of Bike Franchises and their ability to market themselves or the actual market they are in. Just because they have bought a Franchise dos’nt mean they are well equipped to run an organisation. As the CEO the ball is in their court. Yes the manufacturers are screwing them and leave little doubt as to the pressure when sales are down. So what do they do, very little waiting for that magic wand to make things better. I went to the opening recently of” The Bend” raceway in South Australia [ Australian Superbikes round] no bike dealerships there at all infact an opportunity simply lost, no interest in supporting the sport their industry represents.

    I was in a dealership one Saturday lunch time and noticed around me staff clearing up to go home I decided the pressure was to great and left without any purchase. If Saturday or Sunday is my only time to look then the industry has to accommodate some way, we can shop 24/7 for some things on the internet closing down on a weekend when most bike riders are out and about does not make sense. How about encouraging clubs ,forums, and individuals to gather for coffee BBQ at these establishments and show off their new models, bike wear etc come on it’s not rocket science. Sure there is a cost to all of this, but this is genuine promotion that is tax deductable, or are we Aussies to attached to” The weekend ” mentality . Shutting down a business because its the weekend really needs to change just look at businesses that are open on weekends it reflects, yes we want your business. Oh yes don’t forget the caravan industry that’s closed on weekends too. The bike industry needs a bloody good shakeup from top down.

  5. The sheer number of models available leads to lots of people buying the wrong motorcycle. These are then traded in and the cycle continues. Look at any dealerships anywhere they are full of these bikes that can`t be ridden out of sight on a good day. Of course this is only part of the motorcycle sales problem. Reducing the model range should help in the long term. Most of the salesmen are young and do not have an interest in motorcycling beyond the pay check. A recent tour of all the big bike shops in Brisbane looking for a helmet showed something was wrong. At 1 dealership 7 salesmen ignored me until i left the shop.

  6. I worked in the industry for several years in both wholesale (in the “80’s) and in retail in the early 2000″s. The dealership I was at wanted new blood and direction, I put in a café, had a female sales member, put in some lifestyle clothing, made suggestions as to the hours we were open etc., suggested we open later and close later, suggested we offer hire scooters for workshop customers etc., started a store magazine with test rides and product reviews. I was Robinson Crusoe in that dealership, the staff thought I was a wanker, and customers were considered to be opinionated pricks. Never mind that sales went up 55% and the yield from sales increased dramatically. The industry has to lose the ego and reinvent itself as THE alternate mode of transport and lifestyle fun. Every state should have cheaper rego for LAMS bikes and speed restricted Scooter access to car drivers like Queensland. Political lobbying needs to occur so that bikes are not seen as left of centre. City’s can adopt electric hire bike stands to ease city congestion, free electric bike recharge stations for commuters. Second to last tie in stores to rider training, and make it easier to test ride bikes. Nothing so off putting to ask for a test ride and be told, “sorry mate no insurance, you bin it you own it, or the excess is $4k”! Lastly, make the bike dealership a social destination, not just a sales pitch, the sales will come if someone feels like part of the family. In all recent bike purchases I have made, not once was a follow up call made to see how the purchase was going, or regular emails on events and promo’s! Customers are valuable, grow the family of motorcyclists!

  7. Duh… memo Bike Manufacturer rocket scientists… be a short male or female and choice of bikes is limited to HD models; cruisers or predominantly lower cc models. Triumph Street Twin has the lowest seat height with more cc’s. I was set to buy one… came across a guy with a brand new T120… leaking oil… no thanks.

    The bottom-line. High seat height alienates around 50% of potential bike customers. Problematic build quality such as 4 recalls on the Yamaha MT-03 doesn’t help. Then there’s bike security – dare you park your bike anywhere and leave it without anxiety it will be there when you come back? I bought a scooter to overcome that issue… a scumbag busted my top box… now I have no peace leaving my bike or scooter anywhere.

    Being open on a Sunday won’t make a bit of difference to the basic issues so dealers will only achieve the same amount of sales over more days. Having said that… I would like to see dealers open 24/7 because in the middle of the night and I’m dreaming of the next bike and I can’t sleep I’d like to go down and check it out in the flesh.

  8. So much of what has been said is so apposite , however I feel the most telling point is the observation that there is total lack of general TV and newspaper advertising , except on motogp and superbike broadcasts and then that is to the converted.
    Then the concept of escapism projected in automobile ads , how much more escapist can you get if one talks of motorcycles?
    Yep the whole motorcycle industry is asleep at the wheel when it comes to engaging new customers or is it an overwhelming sense of entitlement that makes them feel they don’t have to get down and dirty in the market place as every one else has to

  9. I suggested Tuesday to Sunday trading to a high profile S/E Qld Triumph dealer in 2006 and he didn’t see any more merit in that than my original Wednesday to Sunday . . .
    Depending on “location” : one or the other WOULD have been a boost for customer and thus , the Dealer and staff who often work broken weeks etc. . . . ok- you get it 😉

  10. You’ll notice that the only improvement is in scooters which are up across the board vs standard bikes.

    Mainstream motorcycle news needs to get with the programme. I’ve had dozens of bikes over the years from race-reps to adv’s, dirt bikes and a few scooters. My next bike will be an automatic motorcycle (some of you will refer to as a scooter). It handles, it has storage, the chicks dig it, it’s fast enough to lose a license. Yes, it has a cvt but apart from that it pisses on half the bikes i’ve owned in the past 25 years for satisfaction.

    I still have a place for bikes with character like Dukes and Guzzi’s for the sunday blast and trackdays but honestly, f**k that for monday to friday in the stinking heat with shit roads and worst standard of cage drivers in the modern world.

    Asia and Europe got with the programme years ago. Maybe time we did too. The fact this article doesn’t even acknowledge the fact says it all.

    1. I’m like you. Totally love scooters (yet love my HDs too, lol) for sheer ease of use I’d definitely rock a Vespa. Heck I’d alternate between the Harley and a scoot way before I’d ever drive through a peak hour again. I only take the car if the whole family absolutely has to go somewhere. Can’t wait till the kids are 8. More bike use.

  11. He’s right, when was the last time you saw an exciting motorcycle ad on mainstream TV? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. It is no good making high performance machines and then keeping them hidden from the wider public. The same goes for those bikes with good fuel economy. Why aren’t the manufacturers splashing this all over the media given the current spike in fuel prices? Why the complete silence?

  12. In ‘MY DAY’…[here we go my old fart comment] at school in the 60,s the parking are at my high school was full of small capacity jap bikes and scooters..Many went on to bigger bikes later. When is the industry going to realise that it is anti bike discrimination by governments federal and state that is hurting them by discouraging new riders by harder and harder licensing. Or taking no notice of motorcycles in urban planning, For a lot of people bicycles are just not practical [unless you have a shower at work] in our hot summers Yet governments are spending millions on infrastructure. The future is obviously in electric yet there appears to be no lobbying by motorcycle manufacturers of the government as to the advantage of 2&3 wheelers in traffic congestion and pollution. they could make a start by removing the need for a license on mopeds

    1. A young fella at my work was pretty keen on getting a bike until he found out that he could drive a Golf GTI turbo on his car P plates, but only some lame LAMS bike on his bike Ps. What would you choose if you were a young bloke out to impress the girls?

  13. Probably agree with most of what you say especially about the dealerships most them don’t train their staff properly that’s if you can get someone to serve you.The other thing is that people tend to think that motorcycling is a dangerous form of transport most of my friends think i’m crazy because i ride instead of drive most times so maybe the industry should concentrate on changing the image of motorcycling and start selling the benefits of it.

  14. Maybe Honda could revive the old “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” campaign from the umm, 60’s?.
    If you are old enough to sort of remember the ads and can still remember the slogan, the campaign was a success. Did it sell bikes to the sort of people that the makers are now targetting (again)?

  15. I won’t disagree with any of this, but the best way to promote motorcycling is for all of us to get out there and do it as often as possible. Let people see what we do and how much we love it. Find new reasons and opportunities to get on your bike, and leave the car at home. You’ll be glad you did!

    1. Totally agree with your comment MotoRain on getting out there and riding your bike everyday. Exposure of more bikes on the road is the best way to let people know there is an alternative mode of transport.

      I ride to work everyday for this very reason to make one more bike on the road, if all riders would do the same it will make a difference.

      Besides I so look forward to my ride home after a stressful day of work it’s what gets me to the end of the day and when I arrive home I’m totally cleansed of all my stress.

      Mark how do we get these manufactures to aknowledge their shortfall in promoting there own industry, it does stagger me in there lack of input.

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