Claude and Diane Sonday broke into the industry in 1972 when they opened a basic repair and minor accessories shop. “Within a year, it burned, and they didn’t have insurance on it, so they had to rebuild it,” Woodstock’s General Manager Doug Jackson said. Shortly thereafter, the couple added Kawasaki, followed by Honda in the early 1980s. In 1998, the couple stepped away from the metric side of the business and acquired Harley-Davidson. The Sondays purchased a 12,000 square foot building to accommodate the dealership, and since then business has grown. “Back then I think the number of new bikes they got were 60-67, and we sold 1,200 total bikes last year,” Jackson said. In 2000, the dealership moved to a 66,000 square foot facility to accommodate growing sales. “The motorcycle business was taking off, and you had this small little dealership that was underperforming to the opportunities in the area,” Jackson explained. Many members of the dedicated staff have been at the dealership for 5-10 years. “We just believe that the employees are the face of the business, and they set us apart,” Jackson said. He preaches that each customer should be served beyond the purchase. “If you were to ask our employees some of our mottos, they would tell you we don’t eat and run. We take care of our customers after the sale,” he said.
Jackson is worried too many of the industry’s riders are aging without enough replacements to fill in. “As the baby boomer ages, I think you have to cultivate that younger generation rider,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest concern I have is how to address that, how to approach that.” Many boomers are transitioning to trikes, but Jackson knows the industry can only hold onto those customers for a limited period of time. He hopes the industry is changing to accommodate younger riders. “We have to make sure really the affordability is there for the younger generation, and the economy is up for the younger generation.”
Harley-Davidson’s Street Glide is the most popular bike in Woodstock. “I think it’s because it’s a little bit sportier,” Jackson said. In comparison to larger touring models, the Street Glide is less bulky. “You don’t have the big bags on the back and everything,” he said. Sales of the motorcycles have been up since the Street Glide was introduced in the mid-2000s.
CUSTOMER BUYING TRENDS
Though Jackson is concerned about the aging of motorcycle customers, he has seen a burst of younger riders coming in his doors. To make those customers feel comfortable, he makes sure he has the staff to put them at ease. “I just think that you have to have some young salespeople that they can relate to.” Marketing techniques also are evolving to persuade the younger demographic. “One of the things we have to improve upon is the Facebook and things of that nature,” Jackson said. “I think that type of media makes a big difference.”
PARTS AND SERVICE
Customer service is integral to the business model at Woodstock Harley-Davidson, and there’s no exception made in the service department. “Probably the biggest thing is it’s about attitude,” Jackson said. “Service really means, if you’re going to look it up in the dictionary, it’s really an act that benefits someone else.” Many other dealers, he said, look at the service department as a burden, but he sees it differently. “I look at it as it’s the nucleus of a well-rounded dealership,” Jackson explained. “If you’re not taking care of the customer, the sales department will never get another chance at that customer.” The 20 technicians are kept busy year round, even in the winter, because they work on the 1,000 customer bikes the dealership stores during the off-season. The P&A department is also doing well.
PROMOTIONAL HOME RUNS
“We’re an event-driven dealership. We do a lot of events,” Jackson reported. Upcoming festivities include a spring fever sale in February and an open house in March. “It’s one of those things where we have such a large store where we can accommodate several hundred people, so our events usually draw close to 3,000 people,” Jackson said. “When you have that kind of space and that kind of parking, use it to your advantage to draw people in.” The events are advertised through direct mail, and participants are easy to find because they’re drawn by the brand. “Harley-Davidson riders want to be connected with the brand, and they want to be connected with the dealership,” Jackson said. The events are usually accompanied with free food and music, and traditionally they have worked well for the dealership. “Typically what they do is bring their friends and family, and what we have is the chance to sell to their friends and family as well and make them a service customer,” Jackson said.
WORDS OF ADVICE
Jackson’s advice is meant for Harley-Davidson dealers, but can be heeded by others. “I think the main thing is just to support the brand,” he said. “It’s a fantastic brand. I don’t think we should devalue the brand. I think we have to continue to add value to the brand and the product instead of discounting it.” PSB
Woodstock Harley-Davidson-Woodstock, Ill.-February 7, 2011