― Chad Sugg
It was a startling moment during an otherwise perfect day. The Orange County weather was at its Orange County-est: ideal for a quick ride to the watering hole for some biker-bar grub. Nachos – being the World’s Most Perfect Food – made an ideal companion in the lively establishment. While watching the band tune-up, I paused in-between Velveeta-soaked bites to look around.
Nah, couldn’t be…?
Wiping some canned guacamole from my fingers, I looked around again, and the realization sank in: I was the youngest person at the place.
At some point in life, we get used to being surrounded by those younger than us. Whether at work, my kid’s school, or wherever, there’ll always be someone born after 1971 around. Look, I’m not Methuselah or anything – but I’m never the absolute youngest one in the room. Until now.
While pondering, I examined the clientele at this popular biker retreat. These were classic, salt-of-the-earth Baby Boomers. They love Peter Fonda, Steppenwolf and Freedom. In other words, they’re the engine powering our industry these past 25 years.
In 1995, Baby Boomers were between the ages of 31-49 with a median age of 40. Ahh, 40… the age where peak earning years run headlong into midlife crises and dreams of rebellion. Not coincidentally, Harley-Davidson motorcycle sales hit its stride right around that period. Boomers, the largest demographic group America had ever seen, possessed both the need for freedom and the discretionary income to satisfy that need. It was a perfect storm, and it’s been raging for decades.
But to quote a Boomer icon, “The Times, they are a-Changing.”
Have you noticed recent trends toward full-dress touring and 3-wheeled bikes? Well, the Boomers’ current age is between 52 and 70. They stopped being able to ride hardtails and sportbikes a while back; started retiring five years ago, and have now (unfortunately) begun to age out of motorcycling altogether.
This is a tectonic shift in our industry, and, believe me, motorcycle manufacturers know it.
Before you comment with tales of grandad riding a GSXR at age 92: understand that exceptions prove the rule, and generational bell curves shape our world. The V-Twin business in particular can thank Boomers for these past 25 years of market share dominance, and their aging is a big problem for manufacturers and dealers.
So what’s next?
Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough Gen Xers (like me) to drive industries on a meta scale. That’s why everyone is looking to Millennials. Last year, Millennials passed both Boomers and Gen-Xers to simultaneously become the largest demographic group and largest portion of the workforce in America. The conventional wisdom says Millennials prefer Social Media to social interaction and virtual adventure over real adventure; which bodes poorly for the motorcycle industry.
So are we now facing another storm? Boomers aging out of the market, Millennials ignoring motorcycling, and Gen Xers caught in the middle? Don’t panic just yet.
Millennials are currently between the ages of 19 and 35. Their median age is just 27. They are better-educated than their predecessors, entering the work force later. In other words, they’re just getting started, and don’t yet have discretionary income.
But they will. Soon.
Does this generation have different attitudes towards bikes, cars, social activity, and transportation? Sure. But contrary to popular belief, Millennials would prefer riding a real motorcycle to a virtual one. They’d rather drive a car than take the bus. They’d rather own a cool bike than sit at home taking duck-faced selfies. But selfies are cheap, and motorcycles are expensive. For now.
In 2017, Millennials will become the dominant consumers in our economy, spending over $200 Billion annually. They will continue spend more as their earning power increases every year from 2017 to 2037, where they peak in both population and resources: 81 million people in their prime earning years.
OEM’s know this, and have been burning the midnight oil developing platforms to target these emerging consumers. Although we’d like to believe the new Ducati Scrambler was designed for us old guys to wax nostalgic, they actually made that bike for Millennials. Ditto the HD Street, Indian Scout, and the phalanx of 300cc sportbikes currently dominating the sales floor. These new models are massive investments in the future of our sport. If you don’t like the new BMW G310R, it most likely wasn’t made for you.
But fear not, the motorcycle industry isn’t done with us geezers yet. We’re surrounded by bikes targeted to the over-40 crowd as well, which still drive the lion’s share of profits for manufacturers and dealers. Gen Xers have the best of both worlds, because we get to benefit from efforts made toward both Boomers and Millennials, while enjoying (and selling) amazing bikes in all categories.
For a dealer, surviving this tectonic shift means understanding the wants, needs, and limitations of the three generational groups. This way your dealership can provide the right combination of staff, stock, and vibe these divergent buyers demand. Learn the different shopping and social habits of Millennials, Gen Xers, and Boomers; then customize your marketing and sales process accordingly.
Much has been written on catering to emerging buyers in our industry – whether it’s female riders, minorities, Millennials, aging Boomers, or any combination therein. Learn your store’s weaknesses and opportunities so you’ll be prepared to maximize the next generational wave.
The future of our industry is in good hands. So, for a while, I’ll enjoy being the punk kid at the bar. They still never ask me for ID though.
“You are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely.”
― Ogden Nash
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, or clients.