Big Dog remains focused – January 22, 2007

With a custom cruiser market that is at best flat and probably down, it’s hardly surprising to see some of the American V-twin OEMs looking north of the border or even overseas to boost sales.
That has been the case with several of the motorcycle segment’s manufacturers. But surprisingly, one of the segment’s largest OEMs, Big Dog Motorcycles, has so far kept its sights close to home. That could change this summer with the company’s foray into Canada.
But clearly the Wichita, Kan., custom builder has so far not made expanding its selling boundaries past the United States a big priority. Instead, the company still feels “there’s enough market in the United States,” said Big Dog President Nick Messer.
Messer believes other V-twin OEMs who race to foreign markets look at such moves as “bragging rights.”
“They feel, ‘Oh wow, we’re worldwide.’ But it doesn’t do anything for your sales,” he said. “And you have to make certain you’re there to support the product.
“In small companies like ours, you still answer to the consumer. They always feel like they want to get in touch with the factory if they’re unhappy with anything. It’s much harder to handle that person in a foreign country than it is in the United States.”
One of the larger V-twin producers, Big Dog had plans to build 5,000 motorcycles in 2006 for its roughly 100 dealers. That dealer network increased in 2006 as the company added 21 dealers but also phased out 10.
Messer said the company’s goal for 2007 is to add 20 more dealers, a goal that remains consistent from last year.
“We’ve been very particular about who we sign up,” he said, noting Big Dog turns down more dealer applications than it approves.
What does Big Dog look for in dealers?
Having the financial means is important, but not necessarily the only factor. Messer noted that some Harley-Davidson dealers have become Big Dog distributors, but some also have been turned down.
Stability is key, Messer said in regards to dealer selection, but so is service.
“Our requirements are much stronger on the service end of it than the sales end of it,” Messer said, noting that having V-twin-trained mechanics is a must. That requirement is difficult for many metric dealers to meet.
For metric dealerships, Big Dog also prefers having a separate showroom or dedicated showroom space for their bikes.
The metric dealerships that are solely concentrating on large sales volumes “really haven’t done well for us,” Messer said, “because our type of product is not a have-to-have. It’s basically a want, a desire to have a custom bike. And they’re not inexpensive.”
Big Dog’s ’07 models range in MSRP from $26,800 to $33,900.
“To the person who is going to buy our product, service is key,” Messer said. “You have to have a strong service operation, a strong desire to take care of your customer and look for that repeat customer.”
With those dealer qualifications in mind, Big Dog will continue looking to expand its network in 2007 and beyond until it reaches 150 dealers, Messer said. That’s what he foresees as being a complete dealer network for the United States.
“There’s plenty of market here in the United States,” he said. “As long as you focus on your product, your dealer network and what the customers want, it will make getting into the other countries easier.”
In fact, Big Dog currently is researching the Canadian market, with the possibility of selling its bikes there this summer.
“You have to make sure you can support the United States first,” Messer said, “before you start jumping into foreign countries and selling your product.”

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