From the Editors

If you fear online competition, take a look at your sales process

Liz KeenerA dealer recently shared an article titled “Fiat Chrysler teams up with Amazon to sell cars online,” in the Powersports Business LinkedIn group. He posted, “Our industry is next.”

That post (available here) has already earned a few comments, and it also has me thinking. Often when news like this appears, too many in our industry take the “sky is falling” approach. The concern is that online sales are going to rip apart the dealership model. I do agree this is something we have to keep an eye on. However, I’m going with the “glass half-full” approach.

Not many of us want to spent $10,000 or $15,000 or $20,000-plus on something we’ve never seen before. In fact, as some have commented, the concern is that these online shoppers will stop at a dealership, try the bike on for size, see the color in person and ask a few questions about the bike. Then they’ll leave to buy the motorcycle at the cheapest price online.

First of all, this is already happening. Ever had someone come in, take a serious interest in the 2013 Ninja 300 in your pre-owned section and never return? Yeah, he bought that same bike from some stranger on Craigslist.

But with those used bike buyers or potential online buyers (who are also doing the same with PG&A right now), this trend can be stopped. We just have to SELL them the bike from US. We have to SELL them OUR dealership.

Say, for example, Jane walks into your dealership. She’s interested in a 2016 Street Twin. You let her sit on the bike; you answer a million questions about the unit; you watch the grin on her face as she pictures her first ride aboard her new Triumph. … But then your salesperson instincts kick in, and you know she has no intention to buy from you. At that point you have two options: You can throw in the towel, thank her for stopping by and watch her walk out the door, OR you can try your darndest to sell her the bike she didn’t think she’d go home with.

Try this: Offer her a dealership tour to show her what she’ll be missing, if she buys somewhere else. Tell her that if she gives you 30 more minutes for a behind-the-scenes dealership tour, you’ll offer her a free dealership branded T-shirt. Walk her over to your PG&A department, show her the chrome that will fit perfectly on her bike and have her try on the latest jackets you just hung on the rack. Tell her about any PG&A discounts given to new bike buyers. Then take her to service; give your tech Joe a wave and tell her about Joe’s 20 years of experience and how there’s nothing he’s ever run across that he can’t fix. Stop your business or F&I manager and have him shake Jane’s hand. Explain that when she buys from you, she’ll have access to the best financing around, plus she can probably roll in some of those accessories she saw earlier, as well as a maintenance plan that will have Joe keeping her new ride rolling for years to come. Walk her by photos of your dealership’s riding group and explain what they do and who’s in the group (and offer their contact info, if you have it). Of course end the tour back at that Street Twin, have her sit on it again, and if you haven’t yet, tell her about how you’ll be there for her throughout her ownership of the bike and beyond, give her your business card and throw your cell phone number on there, in case she needs help during off-hours.

Obviously this is an example, but fill in the blanks with what your dealership offers. If you have a Riding Academy or a partnership with a local MSF course and the customer doesn’t have a license, explain how you’ll help him obtain a license. If you have an event every week, mention that. If there’s something else unique about your dealership, make sure you brag about it.

Yes, internet sales are scary. The Tesla no-dealership model is scary. But you’ve always had competition, right? You compete with the guy down the road who sells a different brand (or the same brand). You compete with $600 cell phones and $1,000 TVs, other pricey gadgets and everything else people buy. What you have to think about is how you’re going to continue to hold your place in the market and what type of customer service you’re willing to deliver to earn each customer’s sale.

Liz Keener is the managing editor of Powersports Business, a trade magazine for the powersports industry. She reports on the powersports industry through Powersports Business’ varied media, including in the magazine and online. She produces the magazine’s annual Market Data Book and handles a variety of assignments for the magazine and its ancillary products. Powersports Business is known for its exclusive dealer surveys, in-depth industry analysis, Power 50 dealership honors program and dealer education.



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  1. Like it or not the dealership showroom experience has changed forever. As a Harley Davidson sales manager for 17 years I have said good bye to the days of taking a deposit for a new bike sale and calling the customer 6 months latter to come and pick up their new bike. Over supply, a declining customer base and automotive mentality new dealerships have all turn the supply and demand model that worked so well for so many years on its head.
    Now to say that a walk through the dealership and a free t shirt is going to convert an internet buyer into a customer for your showroom is a long shot at best. You might salvage 1 in 50 or 1 in 200. Your only chose is to do what the car guys do. Once you get the customer in the door don’t let them leave until you have sold them a bike or you have reduced your deal to an unacceptable profit margin. Once they walk out they are likely gone for good.
    It’s no longer about holding to MSRP and expecting the customer to buy. It’s about volume sales and that’s really the only thing the manufacturer cares about. You won’t make it by holding out for the grosses you had in the past. You will need to step up your used vehicle sales, diversify within your used inventory, find wholesale product to supplement your inventory and take every new and used bike deal that offers so reasonable profit margin.
    Once you have captured that customer spend the money to keep them in your store. Make them an MVP customer. Make sure they don’t have a bad service experience in your store. And if they do spend the money to make it right for them. Give them reasons to buy parts and accessories at your store rather than on line.
    It’s getting much harder and only the most determined will survive. My mother used to say “getting old is not for the faint of heart.” I would say that in a brick and mortar store today “dealing with retail sales is not for the faint of heart either.”

  2. In other words: try harder.

    After 15+ years in the motorcycle industry, there’s nothing more annoying than yet another article from a millennial telling us that the key to success is “ignore pricing concerns or the way that customers treat you, and just work harder to sell every other aspect of your business.”

    Do we really need a lesson in this? Of course not–we’ve been promoting customer service and a positive dealership experience for decades. But if that’s all you have to offer, instead of some insight into how a legitimately customer-oriented dealership can survive in the age of faceless online retailers, and the electronics-addicted, entitlement-having, low-FICO generation that values pricing over experience, then spare us these rehashed “advice” articles.

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