After many years, I have a confession to make. I only hope that, as a fellow rider, you’ll understand.
As it turns out, we share a few things in common. We’re about the same age, we’re roughly the same height and weight, and we both have a weakness for stunning brunettes and beautiful motorcycles. We also share another common trait: helmet size.
The story begins in 2004 when you needed gear for your custom Ducati 999. You remember the one with that horrible one-off exhaust system? It sounded like a Vita-Mix digesting a fork. Anyhow, you’d converted it into a carbon fiber masterpiece and needed a helmet to match. But there was a problem: only one manufacturer – in Italy – was making full carbon helmets at that time, and only a handful had entered the U.S.
I too rode a Ducati, employed by the importer of said carbon helmet. The first DOT-approved prototype arrived for me – an $1,100 high-tech masterpiece. It was comfortable, well-vented, and the only size medium in North America.
Your local dealer, desperate to satisfy their mega-star customer, would have done anything for that elusive size medium and called me directly. We were unable to import more carbon helmets for several months; thus the only solution was to surrender mine.
So I did. I cleaned off the bugs, put it back in the box, and you bought it.
The dealer apparently said it was specially imported just for you. They certainly didn’t reference any time spent on my noggin at 125mph. Anyway, a week later I saw you grinning on the red carpet, posing with that very helmet under your arm. You’d ridden the Vita-Mix Ducati to a movie premiere, and looked so happy I was guilt-ridden with the knowledge that your gear possessed my cooties. To be fair, you were sandwiched between Katie Holmes and Penelope Cruz in that photo, so feeling sorry for you wasn’t easy.
Tom, because you possess several more lawyers than I do, there are three important takeaways to keep in mind:
- You’re Tom Cruise, so why would you care
- It’s been like thirteen years, so you shouldn’t wear that helmet anymore anyway
- See point #1
But here’s the bottom line: we really do have something in common – beyond the tendency to marry younger women a bit out of our league. It’s a connection that supersedes all else. It transcends status, language, age, and gender; a bond shared worldwide between dealer, customer, movie star, and mechanic.
It’s the brotherhood of riding.
Motorcycles truly are the great equalizer. On a bike, we’re not rich or poor, we’re not millennial or boomer, we’re not a stock broker or a college student. We’re just a rider. And the power of that transformation is magical.
This is the allure bikes have upon celebrities. When you don that helmet and ride off, you’re no longer “Tom Cruise,” you’re just a guy on a bike. This frees you to enjoy the shared experience – a remarkable escape from your very unique life. As you and I pass each other on the Angeles Crest, you’re not an ‘actor’; you’ve been elevated to become one of us. In my job, I get to witness this transformation every day. Our customer straps on a helmet and straddles a bike – becoming special in a way that eclipses even stardom or fame.
I’d like to instill that message upon my colleagues in the motorcycle industry. As our business evolves and matures, we’ve witnessed the transition from greasy mom-and-pop to big-box superstore to car dealership meat-grinder. None are ideal; and they’re all beneath our sport.
The riding experience deserves a retail experience that’s as personal, professional, and premium as the sport itself.
You see Tom, our industry is in flux. With boomers retiring, millennials rising, and tastes shifting, we often struggle just to keep up; losing some perspective.
Great customer service is something that 99.997 percent of dealerships strive for, and usually think they’ve attained. Yet in most cases, we can’t even define it. What does it mean to offer great customer service? A killer price? Huge selection? Energetic sales guys? Surly biker experts? Free coffee? Not only is it hard to define, but you’ll get a different answer every time you ask.
So my fellow powersports dealers need to make some decisions. They must DEFINE what their guest experience should be, and determine how to measure it. Then they need to EXECUTE toward those metrics: stay vigilant and hold staff accountable to definitive results.
It starts with NEED. We should determine what our customers need, even if it’s not what they think they need. We should stop looking to car dealerships for inspiration and start looking at other premium retail. We could learn a lot more from Starbucks than from Best Buy. Most importantly, we need to curtail the “Lowest-Common-Denominator” type of selling – cramming a bunch of iron into a big box and peddling discounts – it destroys brands, dealers, and industries.
“LCD” dealerships don’t know how to offer a premium experience. They sell the “deal” – not the bike, the brand, or the lifestyle. They don’t know how to communicate the transformative nature of motorcycles. Riders deserve a world-class retail experience – the same level of commitment you received when needing that impossible-to-find helmet.
Bikes and bikers are special; they deserve better than what we currently provide. In the midst of our daily grind, we often forget our role in changing lives. It’s a shame we rarely present a dealership experience that matches the magnitude of our product.
There. I made my confession, and humbly beg your forgiveness. In the final analysis, I hope you enjoyed that fantastic helmet as much as I had. Being a genuine member of our riding brotherhood, I’m sure you did.
Chris Clovis has had the honor and pleasure of 26 years in the powersports industry, currently serving as vice president of EagleRider Motorcycles [www.eaglerider.com]. Chris’ opinions are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer, publisher, clients, or Tom Cruise.