April 2, 2007 – A category with wide appeal

The image of a college student riding his utilitarian scooter to class certainly is ingrained in the collective psyche when one thinks about the typical scooter rider.
But the types of scooters on the market vary widely, attracting a range of owners with their personal reasons for making a scooter purchase.
“An emerging group is those who use scooters as a way of commuting,” said Paolo Timoni, president and CEO of Piaggio Group Americas, based in New York. “That group is about 50 percent of the market in our case and growing.”
The second-largest group is comprised of leisure riders, who ride their scooters on the weekends when the weather is nice.
Glenn Hansen, communications manager at American Suzuki Motor Corp. in Brea, Calif., notes the typical Suzuki scooter buyer is older and an experienced motorcycle rider who has grown tired of moving his big, heavy motorcycle around in the garage but still wants to ride. Suzuki’s Burgman line has models from 400cc to 650cc, with suggested retail prices from $5,899 to $8,799, so these performance machines don’t generally appeal to first-time buyers.
When the Burgman scooter was introduced in the United States four years ago, the company launched an aggressive campaign based on the stereotypical image of a scooter rider as young and urban. Ads ran in such urban markets as San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle, appearing in outdoor venues, taxi toppers — even in Times Square.
“After two years of consistent data, we’ve discovered that our scooter customers don’t live in New York and San Francisco,” Hansen said.
The scooter market for Schwinn Motor Sports is grouped into three significant segments: college students, urban professionals and retirees, says Mo Moorman, director of corporate communications and new business marketing. “The marketing focus comes down to scooter demographics, which are all over the place,” Moorman said.
Schwinn recently teamed with trendy retailer Buckle to offer five scooters as grand prizes in a three-week promotion that put game cards in the hands of shoppers who tried on certain apparel at the 350-store chain.
Just as Schwinn knew this promotion would appeal to younger riders, powersports retailers should know the demographics of their clientele in order to tailor marketing efforts to reach potentially diverse groups of buyers.
“A lot has to do with location,” said George Simone, Schwinn vice president. “Newport, R.I., (where Simone is based) is touristy; it’s difficult to get around; and there are a large number of people who live and work on boats. Here we see people of all demographics using scooters as a utilitarian tool.”
In Madison, Wis., a college town where Schwinn Motor Sports has its headquarters, students comprise the majority of users, while in highly urban areas, sales again can be all over the board. “The biggest surprise,” Simone said, “is that it’s a more mature market than we thought it was.”
Many potential scooter buyers don’t know anyone else who owns one and, therefore, have a myriad of questions about licensing, maintenance, parking and other scooter-related issues. Timoni says Piaggio encourages dealers to organize intimate gatherings of potential scooter owners to answer questions and provide that basic information about scooter ownership. According to company research, the propensity to buy among potential owners doubles after an education session, Timoni said.
Demonstration rides can also spur sales, he notes. “People tend to associate scooters with motorcycles, and most people are a little afraid,” Timoni said. “Education classes and demo rides are very effective initiatives.” The best Vespa and Piaggio dealers in terms of volume tend to be those who have what Timoni calls “a true passion for alternative transportation, environmental issues and combating traffic congestion.”
Since its initial ad push, Suzuki hasn’t focused on the segment in the same way, spending the bulk of national advertising dollars on sports bikes, ATVs and other products. Still, scooter sales increased 30 percent for 2006 in what’s considered a flat market, Hansen says.
“We let regions focus on what they want to focus on,” Hansen said of regional marketing efforts. “Dealers need to know their customers well and what styles of products will appeal to each market segment, and we can help with that.”
Schwinn has also stated focusing on regional advertising to help its dealers, Moorman says. Efforts aimed at younger buyers should target
e-mail or Internet sites that this group frequents. Older customers prefer print ads with features and benefits, adds Simone. Retailers have found success running ads with “High gas prices?” above a picture of a scooter with “Problem solved” under it. A similar ad addresses a lack of parking in urban areas.
“The local dealer obviously knows the market better than anyone,” Simone said. “Coming out of the bicycle industry, I’m impressed by the amount of advertising that some dealers do.”
Schwinn assists dealers with general demographic information, co-op dollars so dealers can run their own ads, ad slicks and in-store promotional items, Moorman says. The company is in the process of launching an e-newsletter for dealers that they could, in turn, send to their customer database. Moorman also wants to create an online tool so dealers could customize their own ads.
Piaggio asks dealers to set aside a dedicated space for its products to show the range of accessories and give customers a taste of the Italian flair the units exude, Timoni says.
“Dealers have to start thinking about the local market in a different way,” Timoni said. “There are more women and youth shoppers in this segment than motorcycles, so dealers need to advertise in different places.” psb

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