Winning new customers on the racetrack

John Burr Cycles parlays racing success into customer loyalty

When most businesses talk about engaging their customers, they’re often fishing for Facebook likes, Twitter followers, positive Yelp reviews or customers to walk in the front door. These are essential goals for any contemporary business, but John Burr Cycles — a Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki dealership in the L.A. Basin — has found a more red-blooded way to energize its customers through its successful participation in the Yamaha Spring Series held at legendary Glen Helen Raceway just a few miles down the road.

Formerly known as the Yamaha Dealer Series, the four-round Yamaha Spring Series has been around for more than 20 years and, back in its heyday, was one of the primary dirt bike series in the region. As more off-road series have popped up over the years, the Yamaha Spring Series has lost some of its prominence, yet it remains a unique way for participating Southern California dealers to show their own racing stripes, as well as offer their customers a more affordable way to race and feel like part of a team at the same time while competing for the Spring Series Cup.

Now in its 21st year, the series is intended to promote the sport of dirt biking in general, get more riders involved in the racing scene and, with barbecues, goodies and promotional efforts from several local dealers, attract the whole family to the track, rather than just the racers.

Rewarding the clientele

While dealership personnel participate in the racing — which has been one of the cornerstones of the event over the course of its history — customers are encouraged to enter and ride on behalf of a designated dealership. Anyone can enter, regardless of his or her bike brand, and can get a coupon for a discounted entry fee by visiting a participating dealership.

Bob Gelfand, general manager and a partner at John Burr Cycles in Fontana, said Yamaha’s factory support has largely declined in recent years as racing competition has increased.

“It used to be one of the few series back in the day … there weren’t as many series as there are now,” Gelfand said. “Now there are 40 different series, so it’s hard for people to spread their money, go around and hit all these different series.”

As a smaller dealership with 16 employees surrounded by larger outfits in one of the most heavily populated areas of the country, John Burr has differentiated itself as a store that focuses on aggressive dirt bike and street bike riders and racers.

At the event, the dealership has the largest presence of any other store, with the goal of rewarding its customers for their loyalty and enthusiasm. Staff sets up a barbecue with hot dogs, nachos and chili, as well as water and other beverages that are intended for its customers, but Gelfand added that nobody there checks anyone’s credentials.

“It’s more of a customer event and thanking the people for being our customer, when they buy their bike they want to buy it from us, they know they get to participate in this event and they’re going to get all these extra bonuses that go along with it,” Gelfand said. “It’s a way to make them feel as they’re part of the family.”

Using traditional advertising channels, as well as social media, email blasts and direct texting, John Burr pulls all of its levers in an effort to educate customers about the event and bring them in the dealership to sign up and get the discount.

In total, the four rounds attracted more than 1,000 entries, with 2,000 people in attendance. Lori Bryant, track manager at Glen Helen, said the series received more than 13,000 online hits for social media and on the site checking for results.


Generating a buzz

The Spring Series has a unique scoring system that encourages competition among the dealers. To win the event, each dealership team should have at least one rider in every race with each dealership only scoring points for one rider in the class. Even if there are 15 riders in a given class, the dealership only receives points for the highest finishing rider.

While it’s open to all makes, Yamaha pays contingencies to top Team Blue riders. Approximately 50 percent of entries are typically riding Yamahas. In past years, Yamaha has raffled off a new motorcycle at the final round of the series. The OEM also used to attend with display units, although that ended around the onset of the recession.

Gelfand personally competes aboard a Yamaha YZ250F, and finished second overall in his class. As impressive as that is, John Burr Cycles has only lost the overall event title twice, once eight years ago and another time approximately 20 years ago. Every other year, John Burr has come out on top, which has cemented the dealership’s status as the most aggressive dirt-racing-focused dealership in the area.

“We have a lot of racers that race for us, buy their parts and do everything here. It’s kind of what we made our name as, so since we have so many racers, they typically come out and support us at the event,” he said. “Our dealership probably makes up close to half of the entries.”

Gelfand says this relatively low-cost, bottom-up marketing approach has worked to differentiate John Burr from the larger facilities in the vicinity.

“With our dealership being enthusiasts and doing things on a grassroots effort, we might not have the advertising dollars as some of the large dealerships out here,” he said. “We’re in between two huge dealerships … so we’re kind of stuck in between … so our strength has always been our customer service, our customer referrals and our grassroots efforts on both the dirt bike and street bike side and that’s what keeps us going and keeps us in business day to day.”


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