Nov. 10, 2008 – A golden chance at welcoming diversity

For those powersports know-it-alls out there, here is a trivia question that promises to expand even your high industry IQ.
Which industry new unit has had the following retail sales track record during the past few years: In 2005, its sales were up 21 percent; in 2006, its sales were up even more (23 percent); in 2007, its sales flattened due mainly to a lack of inventory; in 2008, its sales rebounded big-time, up 50 percent, if not more, by mid-summer?
Would that be the A) Yamaha Rhino; B) Harley-Davidson touring family; C) Suzuki GSX-R 600; or D) None of the above.
If you picked “D,” you’re either an industry whiz or simply one of those who got through high school by praying for multiple-choice tests.
Regardless, the answer — the Kawasaki Ninja 250 — exemplifies why there is a sincere reason to be optimistic in the midst of so much economic and financial chaos surrounding us. The consumer demographic this product — and likely other low-displacement on-road offerings — has attracted during the summer and fall represents a golden chance at bringing diversity into the marketplace.
Consider the Ninja 250 demographic, courtesy of Kawasaki Motors Corp. U.S.A.: 67 percent male and 33 percent female; 33 percent under the age of 25, 19 percent between 25-34, 21 percent between 35-44 and the final 23 percent over the age of 45.
That’s 52 percent under the age of 35!
You hard-core Powersports Business readers will remember the J.D. Power and Associates data published earlier this year showed 55 percent of new bike buyers in 2007 were over the age of 41.
And the gender differences between the Ninja buyers and the average new bike buyer were strikingly dissimilar as well. Ninja buyers were three times more likely to be female than the average 2007 new bike buyer.
Even better yet, 62 percent of Ninja buyers were first-time bike buyers.
This sudden swell of diversity has got to be taken advantage of in the coming months. How many lower-displacement buyers will be trading up next summer? How many scooter buyers will do the same?
The latter, according to a metric manufacturer executive I’ve spoken to, have proved fickle in the past, especially in converting from a small-displacement scooter to a larger-displacement scooter or motorcycle.
Still, with so many of these new industry consumers, the interest they’ve shown in a new form of transportation is real. If there was ever cause for a direct mail campaign at a particular audience, this group of consumers seems like a terrific target. No, the sheer numbers here are not staggering but the possibilities they represent — especially for a quick turnaround in units — seem endless.
One caution, though. These newcomers have to be handled differently than most other new bike buyers. Will they really know what kind of ride difference they can experience in a larger displacement bike? Doubtful. Do they know the difference in mpg might not be all that noticeable in a bigger bike? Again, doubtful. Do they have any idea of how much more per month they would have to spend on a larger bike if they traded their smaller-displacement one in next summer? Equally doubtful.
This bunch, largely uneducated in the workings of our industry, should not be cast aside this winter as so many dealerships begin to dwindle in personnel to match staff levels with store traffic. Segments of the industry have been diligent about putting more emphasis on women, producing special events and even devoting apparel sections to this clientele. Why shouldn’t dealerships treat this “newcomer group” in much the same manner? Why not form low-displacement bike buyer clubs or have low-displacement bike buyer special events that seek to enlighten this diverse bunch?
In what has been an incredibly strange year, this bunch of consumers might really represent one of the few rainbows on the horizon. That’s not to say everything is down in the dumps. Side-by-side sales continue to show resiliency, a number of on-road motorcycle aftermarket companies are reporting terrific, if not record years and scooters have suddenly become more than an afterthought.
But all of those segments come attached with questions, very serious ones that are hard to bank on for 2009. The newcomer group, this bevy of low-displacement buyers, however represents something we can count on. With appropriate attention, they can be transformed into something so much more: a repeat customer.
And if you can grow your customer base in this chaotic market, just imagine the type of trivia questions that we could derive on higher-displacement, more profitable models in the near future.

Another perspective

Sam Dantzler, president of the RPM Group, the industry’s largest dealer 20 group provider, touched on this new group of consumers in a recent conversation.
“I believe we are seeing a ‘need-based’ buyer coming in to stores now,” he said, adding “or at least the buyer thinks that they are need-based.”
This new buyer, Dantzler believes, is less impulsive than the traditional new bike buyer and thus must be treated differently. “As many of them go home to ‘think about it,’ it becomes crucial to put attention to the follow-up process,” he said.
A follow-up process that is obviously critical for the initial bike sale but, in my mind, equally important in the days and months that proceed their initiation into the powersports industry. psb
Neil Pascale is editor-in-chief of Powersports Business. He can reached at

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