By Karin Gelschus
Female riders say intimidation is often a main reason why other women don’t get involved in motorcycling. Some dealers, however, have discovered ways to overcome those frustrations.
Capturing new riders
Intimidation is quite possibly the largest barrier stopping females from trying any type of powersports vehicle.
Kathy Jo Porter, owner of Bend Euro Moto in Bend, Ore., says the best way to help women overcome that reaction is by having female employees.
“Dealerships should have one female salesperson,” she said. “If that’s not possible, if their dealership is too small, have at least one female representation at their store. It’s intimidating for women to go into a motorcycle store, especially one that’s all guys. Have an experienced woman who rides. Any dealership that has female employees recognizes that women can actually ride motorcycles.”
In addition to having female staff, dealers should host educational events for women, says motorcyclist Cindy Lewellen of Portland, Ore.
“The whole experience of learning to ride and walking into a dealership is very intimidating,” she said. “Start by gaining the loyalty of female riders at the Motorcycle Safety Course, offer basic mechanic/maintenance classes for women, moto movie nights, etc. Try to build a community before even tackling the purchase of a bike or group rides. Even group rides can be intimidating for women.”
Harley-Davidson of Baltimore has had success with a program the Harley-Davidson Motor Company started, Garage Parties for women. “This is an event that introduces the passion of motorcycling to women who have never considered riding their own motorcycle,” said Don Meyers, minority owner and general manager of Harley-Davidson of Baltimore. “We are focusing on women in particular and younger buyers in general.
“The event is fun and informative: what motorcycling is about, what’s involved in motorcycles – fit, function and style. We spend a lot of time trying to make them feel comfortable with the bike itself. They get a chance to go to the different departments of the dealership.”
The dealership also hosts a more hands-on, smaller event called “About The Bikes,” which also was inspired by Harley-Davidson. Meyers says the parts and sales staff discuss the bikes and riding styles.
“It’s using our Rider’s Edge instructors to teach people about the bikes,” he said. “We had more than 650 students that we taught this past year. They represented more than $2.1 million in business to us in the past 12 months. That sales number continues to go up because we teach more and more people.”
When the dealership started the garage parties two years ago, Tina Jarman, marketing and promotions, Harley-Davidson of Baltimore, says they hosted only two events at first. Due to the popularity, they now host them every other month, and there’s a waiting list to get in.
Class sizes are crucial factor in women satisfaction, notes Jarman.
“Our classes have been as big as 60, but it becomes impersonal at that point,” she said, “so we brought it back down to about 25. That way the women can ask more questions. It’s more one-on-one. We have a lot of women who repeat the class because the comfort level is like no other for female experience.”
The success of the events have made women the dealership’s fastest growing part of its business.
“Ten percent of our customers are women,” commented Meyers. “We’ve been focused on women for about three years now. We’re growing anywhere from 200-300 percent a year.”
Within the rapidly increasing female demographic, Porter of Bend Euro Moto says there isn’t one particular age group catching on the most.
“We see them of every age group, from high school to retired,” she noted. “If I had to guess, I’d say our average female customer is in her 30s.”
Harley-Davidson of Baltimore is seeing the same thing. Jarman said, “That’s anywhere from 19-50 years of age. This year, most were over 40. We had quite a few in their early 60s, a lot of mother and daughters this year, a lot of grandmothers. The selection and age is very dispersed as far as who comes in.”
Catering to experienced riders
Inventory is key to happy female customers, especially clothing, says Porter.
“Dealers need to carry a good selection of women’s riding gear, not just super feminine, pinky-type of gear,” she said. “Having women’s gear represented in the store is really important, not just pink and baby blue. Serious riding gear is really going to show a female customer that your store is serious about cultivating a woman customer.”
Rider Penny Camp Devlin of Sunnyside, Wash., would agree.
“Lots of places offer mail order, but if it doesn’t fit, you’re stuck with it,” she said. “If I saw an advertisement for gear specifically for women, I’d take notice. But not geared down men’s stuff and not gear made for size 2 women.”
In response to some dealers saying they’re isn’t enough women customers to carry a wide selection of women’s clothing, Porter said, “Just about every guy has a wife or girlfriend that goes with. You’re not just addressing the female owner, you’re addressing the passenger.”
Both women drivers and passengers make up about 25 percent of Bend Euro Moto’s gear sales, notes Porter.
“When it comes to casual apparel, like our Ducati gear, it’s about half and half,” she noted. “We sell just as much women’s stuff as we do men’s.”