Festival tops 30,000 riders
There aren’t many opportunities for aftermarket businesses to get in front of more than 30,000 motorcycle enthusiasts over a two-day period, but that’s exactly what J&P Cycles provided over the third weekend in June at its Open House Rally hosted at its Anamosa, Iowa, warehouse and surrounding grounds.
An event that began as a single-day J&P Cycles Open House for motorcyclists to check out the newest products on the market has morphed over 33 years into a full-on rally weekend with more than 100 vendors, family entertainment and tens of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts.
“We changed the name to Open House Rally largely based on the feedback we were getting from customers as well as vendors,” said Tim Barcz, director of marketing and Internet business for J&P Cycles. “They were saying ‘It’s turning into a rally and these are the same people you can see at Bike Week or in Sturgis.’
“We went from one day to two days honestly because the Department of Transportation didn’t like how it was so busy it backed up [the adjacent Highway 151] and turned it into a safety issue. So now it’s across two days, and we’re actually getting some feedback that some people would like to see it longer.”
The Open House Rally, which took place June 23-24, was free to attend. There was even free food available, thanks to a sponsorship from Allstate Insurance. Many of the vendors had products available for purchase either at their tent or inside J&P’s shop.
Bikers showed up in droves.
“We nearly ran out of parking, we went through way more food, and there was a steady stream of bikes,” Barcz said. “The weather was great, the crowd hung around, and they got to see some cool shows. It was a great atmosphere.”
As great as an event like this is for riders, it’s just as good, if not better for the vendors who participate.
Jeffrey Derge, national accounts manager for Parts Unlimited, talked about the mutual benefit for both vendor and customer.
“What’s nice is that we really get a chance to talk to people about stuff and expose them to some of the new products,” Derge said, while standing under a tent full of Parts Unlimited products. “I think one of the neatest things about this event as a whole is that it allows the retail consumer to see all of the top products and brands in the industry and talk to some very, very experienced people. So when they want to make some changes to a motorcycle they can come out and talk to all the top guys in the industry and to get all that for free is a pretty nice incentive.”
Riders certainly took advantage of the opportunity. On-site installations for those who made purchases and hands-on demonstrations for potential purchasers were available.
Chris Wall, director of marketing, public relations and key accounts for Pirelli Tire, said between the Pirelli and Metzeler brands, they’ve been coming every year the event has been put on. The benefits of attending are clear.
“Number one, it never ceases to amaze me that these riders will come from 8-10 hours away to basically look at buying more stuff for their bikes,” Wall explained just moments before an announcer proclaimed over the loud speaker that a couple in attendance Saturday had ridden their bikes all the way to Iowa from California.
“These guys are hardcore purchasers,” Wall continued, also mentioning that Pirelli is having a tremendous year so far, as are its dealers. “They’re into what they do. They love the sport of riding motorcycles. So when we can get a chance to get in front of these kinds of customers, we’re not going to miss it.”
In addition to engaging with potential customers, the Open House Rally provides people like Wall an opportunity to find out what’s popular and what the riders would like to see.
“In the V-twin world, what’s popular is always kind of changing,” Wall said, in the shade of Pirelli’s large tent. “For us to be able to inform our engineers on what tires we need next, we have to get out of the corporate office and talk to consumers.”
“I’ll walk through the bike parking lot and check out everybody’s bike, see who’s running 23-inch fronts, how many 26-inch fronts, there’s a few 31-inch fronts. To be able to spot trends and talk to consumers and find out what they like, what they don’t like, this is part of our R&D right here.”
Even with so many riders on site, the Open House Rally hasn’t been a huge sales event for J&P. However, engaging with and getting to learn more about customers are what makes it all worth it.
“We love selling parts, but the digital age is around us and things get more and more impersonal,” said Barcz, who also expressed that the early warm weather has helped contribute to a good year for J&P so far. “This is a great way to connect with people and that’s why we continue to do it. We get 30,000 bikers on site talking to them. You can’t do that with a website.”
The riders must appreciate that as well, because they keep coming back every year and in bigger numbers.