By Karin Gelschus
“I cringe anytime anyone says, ‘That’s a good girl’s bike,’” San Francisco rider Kat Fosteri said, referring to her pet peeves of customer service at motorcycle dealerships.
Fosteri is just one of many women riders who would like to break the stereotypes some dealers have with female motorcyclists. Stereotypes like the notion that women walking into dealerships are more often than not looking for their first bike and possess little, if any, knowledge of what they’re looking at.
Such stereotypes might be why the industry is no better off, statistically speaking, than it was five years ago in its pursuit of women shoppers. Only 12 percent of new bike buyers are female, according to the 2009 J.D. Power and Associates Motorcycle Competitive Info Study.
That statistic — effectively frozen since at least 2005 — is especially difficult to swallow when considering the purchasing power that women possess today. It’s estimated that women determine 80 percent of consumption, according to A.T. Kearney, an international consulting firm.
The same firm notes that women purchase 60 percent of all cars and own 40 percent of all stocks. Plus, during the next decade, women are predicted to control two-thirds of consumer wealth in the United States and be the beneficiaries of the largest transference of wealth in U.S. history. Estimates range from $12-$40 trillion, stated Claire Behar, senior partner and director of new business development for Fleishman-Hillard New York, a marketing and communications firm.
Consequently, studies show it’s not a matter of whether women fiscally can get into the recreation, it’s whether they want to.
“It’s already there,” Jessica Prokup, director of emerging market communications for the, Motorcycle Industry Council, said of the enthusiasm women have for motorcycles. “A number of women work in the industry, and many aspire to. We have a growing number of women-owned companies, more female MSF Rider coaches, and more female riders than ever. Every year at motorcycle rallies, more and more women show up on their own motorcycles.
“Also, women respond to direct outreach. The more the industry does to meet the needs and expectations of female consumers, the more women will get involved.”
Not catering properly to inexperienced or experienced female riders are reasons many industry associates and consumers feel the female motorcycle market remains largely untapped.
“I think a lot of stores might accept that women ride, but they don’t take them seriously,” said Kathy Jo Porter, owner of Bend Euro Moto in Bend, Ore. “That’s what’s really frustrating. I still hear women saying, ‘Oh I was just over at the other store, and they asked me if I was looking for something for my husband, boyfriend.’ That’s old thinking. You just can’t make the assumption when a female walks through the door that they’re not the one looking to buy. It’s easy to fall into, especially if a woman and a man come in.”
For Fosteri, the San Francisco rider, it comes down to basic customer service. “Some of my best experiences with salespeople have been when they paid attention that I walked in the door,” she said. “They say hello and hang out. They let me guide the conversation a bit.”
The lack of customer service in dealerships could be turning women off, notes Prokup.
“I’d venture a guess that as other kinds of retail stores step up their customer service, many motorcycle dealerships are not meeting consumers’ expectations,” she said. “That’s probably especially true for women who are used to being greeted and getting a lot of assistance while shopping. At some dealerships, the staff either isn’t trained or isn’t inclined to offer that kind of personal service, or, sometimes, any service at all. Customers are often ignored, or here’s a particularly depressing example — told to go find something like a part online themselves.”
What women want in dealerships
The top things women want in a dealership is a wide selection of inventory, both vehicles and clothing, as well as convenience and fair prices, according to the 2009 J.D. Power survey.
“Having the motorcycle I wanted” was the No. 1 reason women bought from a dealership. The percent of men who said that was considerably lower, meaning simply having the right type of product is key to enticing the women buyer.
The survey also showed women cared less than men about the brand name and style/design as they were significantly more concerned with bike size. To make sure a customer, male or female, gets what he or she wants, the salesperson needs to ask questions, notes Prokup.
“The biggest mistake any salesperson can make when dealing with a customer, particularly a female, is thinking he already knows what she wants/needs,” she commented. “Many women are new or novice riders, and they need help finding a bike that truly makes sense for them. The only way to figure out what will fit a female customer is by asking questions. Don’t start by telling her why a particular product is so great; ask her all about her riding, her needs and desires, and then find the bike/ATV accessory that has the kinds of features she can use.
“In general, I don’t think you’re going to wow a woman with the product alone. For most of us, it’s not about impressing anybody with the bike itself. We want to impress people with our ability to ride it. So you can talk about technical features, new styling, power delivery, etc., but do it in a real-world context. Women have the same passion and enthusiasm for riding as men, but we absorb a lot of the details in a different way. Sell us on the amazing experience and help us find the right kind of bike, and you’ll have a customer for life.”