MARKETING – Women Have Special Training Needs

EDITOR’S NOTE: Marcia Kull presented the keynote speech at PowersportsBusinessXchange, discussing ways to market to an emerging motorcycle market: middle-aged women.
Kull knows what she’s talking about. She has 20 years experience working with powersports, marine and auto manufacturers. Most recently, she was a top executive for Genmar, the international boat builder. Today, she’s president and CEO of SheGoes, a consulting firm that shows manufacturers and dealers how to attract and convert tentative women prospects into confident, loyal customers.
While at Genmar, Marcia helped solve a major marketing problem for the company and its dealers: How can we get more women involved in boating? Kull conceived and implemented the innovative grassroots marketing program called, “Women Making Waves.” It was rolled out to 1,600 Genmar dealers and helped women learn hands-on boat handling skills.
She told participating powersports dealers why and how this type of program could be successful in our industry. She can be reached at
Here is a summary of the remarks she made, edited for brevity and clarity. In this second of three parts, Kull further identifies the market. Next time, she’ll discuss more ways to capture this market.

Society and even some industry members seem to have a disconnect between the perception of women riders, and who is really riding. Conventional wisdom says it is the younger women who are riding — and many are — but probably not as many as would fill the leather bustiers and thongs sold as “riding apparel.”
Young women certainly evoke a sexy image for the sport, but it’s a problematic demographic from a sales and marketing prospective because childrearing interrupts the activity. Fifty-seven percent of American women between 15 and 44 have children.
If she is riding before pregnancy she will likely slow or stop riding when the kids are young. You can’t put an infant seat on the back of a bike, and leisure time without kids is rare at this stage. After 10 years or so of not riding, not moving up into new bikes, not staying current with sport or spending on PG&A, something, usually in the form of costly marketing efforts, must prompt her to start anew.
The 45+ women does not face the same interruption. She can ride ’til she drops. It is this demographic that holds the greatest short term profit potential for powersports.

In the next five years, more than 40 million women will enter the 45-49 year old age group. She’s going through her second youth — but this time around she has hard-earned money and confidence. Like men, her discretionary spending increases significantly at 46-47 years, with leisure spending peaking at 52.
Because the kids now can cook their own pizzas, she’s freed from the demands of child-rearing or proving herself in the workplace or social settings.
She can now afford to take more physical and social risks. This woman is willing to form her own opinions and buck trends that aren’t for her. She often serves as a mentor or opinion leader. She is entering the “empty nester, wise woman” phase of life, looking forward to many years of good health, good friends and activity.
And, because of physiological changes to her body during this time, she’s never been more ready for powersports.There is a significant physiological difference between a 25-year-old and a 50-year-old woman.
All women have both estrogen and testosterone in their systems. From puberty to menopause, estrogen wins the daily battle. During menopause, however, estrogen levels decrease, giving women a higher ratio of testosterone to estrogen in their systems. Testosterone becomes the dominate hormone.
In many respects, “she” becomes more like “he.” This is why women in this age group suddenly become more assertive, self-reliant, daring and adventurous.
Margaret Mead, the renowned anthropologist, coined the term “Post-menopausal Zest” to describe this renewal of energy. During this time, women derive other benefits that affect their readiness for powersports participation: as her ratio of testosterone increases, her spatial and mechanical abilities improve, she’s less risk adverse and her previously acute sensitivity to noise decreases.
So, in summary, she’s got the money, time, inclination and she’s looking for adventure.

The Genmar experience contains lessons we can apply to powersports. In winter 2002, Genmar decided it should address the women’s market as a way of helping stem the tide of attrition that began in the early 90s, as a result of many families quitting boating and taking their leisure dollars elsewhere.
If more women participated actively, the theory went, all boating responsibilities and work wouldn’t fall on the shoulders of her male partner and the family would stay boating longer.
I led the initiative in my then-role as senior vice president. I assembled a team of women from among the Genmar companies and formed a working group.
We started with the assumption that we didn’t know what women wanted, and decided to conduct an extraordinarily valuable market research project.
We attended a Women’s Expo and interviewed 500 women over three days. We asked them what they needed to become active boaters — backing trailers, driving boats and launching and loading.
Over and over again, the same answer arose: women wanted lessons. The request for lessons arose from a variety of different reasons: fear of machinery (its big, it’s noisy, what if it doesn’t start), a keen interest in safety for her and her family, a desire not to be taught by her partner, and to gain confidence.
And they had specific ideas about the type of lessons they wanted. One woman remarked that she wanted “learning without criticism.” These words became our mantra.
The request for lessons is hardly unique: The snow sports industry conducted extensive research and found women want and choose to take lessons in order to “gain confidence and reduce fear” and “improve technique.”
The second insight we gained is that women are not impulse buyers. They need an opportunity, or a place and a way to try or experience before they were ready to buy.

Armed with that insight, I created Women Making Waves also known as the Women on Water program during the summer of 2002.
In order to reach the most women, we designed a grassroots program at the dealer level — where the customers are. It had a number of key components:
First, because most boat dealers are not on the water, the program was designed to be held at public assess ramps.
Second, it stresses hands-on learning in order to help women become confident and overcome fear of machinery.
Third, it is designed to be staged by dealers, without any additional support or assistance. All information, including curriculum, set-up, liability waivers, diplomas, signage and post-event evaluations, is included and designed for co-branding between the dealer and the OEM, or single branding by the dealer.
The dealers adapted the program for their local needs. Some programs ran three or four hours. Others a full day. One dealer partnered with the state DNR for a four week program leading to a state boating license.
Some dealers chose to charge a nominal fee for participating. Others collected fees only to turn them over to charity.
One dealer in England charges $160 for a full day class, concluding with a wine tasting event. Its classes for summer 2005 are booked with women coming all the way from Scotland and Spain to attend.
Finally, the program includes ample recommendations to secure lifestyle publicity for the dealer and help establish local role models.
The Women Making Waves program, although perceived initially by Genmar to be somewhat of a sleeper, became a huge hit with the dealers, public, industry and general press.
Remember, these press reports are not coverage of Genmar, or even Glastron or Ranger Boats. This is free publicity showing dealers enhancing the lifestyle of their local customers.

Now, let’s talk specifically about the powersports industry, and how lessons learned from the Women Making Waves program can help break barriers and make her your customer.
Currently, men and women begin riding in one of two ways: informal training from family or friends and/or enrollment in the MSF or another safety class.
Unfortunately, traditional paths present significant barriers to a woman exploring whether she wants to ride.
The first barrier is the challenge presented by non-traditional sports: Before she will buy a motorcycle or an ATV, she’s got to consider herself a rider. But because of the lack of historical involvement and role models, most women will not want a motorcycle until someone or some event prompts her to consider it. That’s different from the boating industry where literally everyone we had talked to had spent at least some time in a boat.
A second barrier is use of the MSF course as a first step. I was in a motorcycle dealership a few months ago. I told the salesperson that I had not ridden since I sold my Honda Twinstar in 1985, but that I was considering getting back in the sport. He suggested that the best thing to do was to come back and see him after I had taken the MSF class. He provided me all of the information I needed to sign up on-line.
When I got home, I checked out the site: let’s see — $125 and 15 hours of time scheduled mainly over a weekend. Then I remembered my typical weekend schedule: kids’ sports games, meetings, etc., etc., etc. My current life and obligations suddenly got in the way — and I already knew about the joys of riding!
Frankly, the MSF is too much of a time and money investment for a novice who only wants to see if she is interested. If you think you might want to go swimming, you don’t want to commit 15 hours and $125 to test the temperature of the lake. For the tentative explorer, the MSF class should be the second, not the first, step in the process.
Fear of new physical skill and/or machinery is another barrier to entry. Few women have experience wrestling heavy machinery with a high center of gravity. She doesn’t want to fail, particularly in front of an audience.
Finally, one barrier takes a more subtle form: many women (and men) simply don’t like to learn new skills from their partners. Their “help” can create a psychological barrier to entry.
To achieve a 45% increase in incremental sales, you need to adjust traditional sales and marketing techniques away from the product and the feature to focus instead on the customer and her unique needs.

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