Amid sales drop, Harley-Davidson wants to teach more to ride

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Leroy N. Soetoro

May 28, 2018, 1:28:55 PM5/28/18

MILWAUKEE — Harley-Davidson is placing a renewed emphasis on teaching
people to ride as part of its efforts to attract more customers.

The Milwaukee-based company's decision to expand the number of dealerships
with a Harley "Riding Academy" comes as the industry grapples with years
of declining sales and an aging customer base.

The program launched in 2000 with about 50 locations and now 245
dealerships in the U.S. offer the three- or four-day course. The company
says about a quarter of those launched since 2014.

Harley sold 124,777 new motorcycles through nine months in 2017, down from
135,581 during the same period the previous year, according to the
company's most recent earnings report.

The Motorcycle Industry Council says the median age of motorcycle owners
increased from 32 to 47 since 1990.

Samantha Kay rode on the back of her father's motorcycle growing up, but
when the 25-year-old took a class to ride for the first time she couldn't
help being anxious.

"I think motorcycles inherently do scare a lot of people," said Kay, a
Milwaukee woman who is one of 50,000 people nationwide who took a riding
course at a Harley-Davidson dealership this year.

As the industry grapples with years of declining sales and an aging
customer base, the Milwaukee-based company that's been a symbol of youth
rebellion wants to attract more customers like Kay. One of the ways
Harley-Davidson is trying to do that is with a renewed emphasis on its
"Riding Academy," a training program launched in 2000 with about 50
locations. Now, 245 locations offer the three- or four-day course. About a
quarter of those launched since 2014, according to the company.

The training is one of the ways Harley is trying to attract a new
generation of riders as the industry deals with big demographic shifts.
Since 1990, the median age of motorcycle owners increased from 32 to 47,
according to data from the Motorcycle Industry Council. About 46 percent
of riders are over 50; only about 10 percent are 30-34.

"Some of the aging Baby Boomers, which have been the guts of Harley-
Davidson's purchasers, they're getting older and some of them are just
getting out of the sport because they can't handle the motorcycle
anymore," said Clyde Fessler, who retired from Harley-Davidson in 2002
after holding several executive positions over 25 years. He created what
became the "Riding Academy."

He said the idea "is getting people comfortable on a motorcycle and
getting them to feel safe and confident."

Harley-Davidson sold 124,777 new motorcycles through nine months in 2017,
down from 135,581 during the same period the previous year, according to
the company's most recent earnings report. Declining sales are affecting
the whole industry and one bright spot for Harley-Davidson is the company
still controls 53 percent of the market.

In addition to riders getting older, a slow economic recovery has made it
harder for millennials to buy new motorcycles, said Jim Williams, vice
president of the American Motorcyclist Association.

Among the newest models, a 2018 Softail Slim starts at $15,899 and a 2018
Sportster Forty-Eight at $11,299.

"The younger generations are buying plenty of motorcycles, they're just
not new," Williams said.

But it's not all the Millennials' fault, said Robert Pandya, who managed
public relations for Indian Motorcycles and Victory Motorcycles. Pandya
recently launched "Give A Shift," a volunteer group discussing ideas to
promote motorcycling. One of their conclusions, he said, is the idea that
"if mom rides, the kids will ride."

Currently, women are about 14 percent of the riding population, according
to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

"The biggest possible opportunity in motorcycling is to invite more women
to ride," he said.

That's not lost on Harley-Davidson. Among the ways Harley-Davidson is
trying to reach younger riders is by having motorcycle role-models like
Jessica Haggett, the founder of the "The Litas" all-women motorcycle club,
be a voice for the company on social media. And the company is also
focusing advertising efforts in male-dominated sports like the X Games and
UFC events popular with younger viewers.

"I think we have to work harder to gain share of mind with young adults,
for example, in that they have other activities in their lives. They're on
screens, they're connecting socially, they're involved in gaming, they're
involved in other things," said Heather Malenshek, Harley-Davidson's vice
president of marketing.

She said the easily customizable Sports Glide model that launched in
November and the aggressive, performance-driven Fat Bob also have younger
riders in mind. In all, the company plans to release 100 new motorcycles
over the next 10 years. During that time, the company also wants to gain 2
million new riders.

Terri Meehan took plenty of motorcycle rides with friends as a passenger
but has wanted to be in the driver's seat for a while. The 42-year-old
took the Harley-Davidson riding course in October because she wanted to
learn from "an expert who could teach right way versus someone who had
learned bad habits."

The price of the class varies by dealership but it's generally about $300.
Students spend time in class learning about motorcycle safety and on
ranges learning to ride. Meehan plans to buy a motorcycle soon.

"My son's a psychology major so he asked me if I was going through a mid-
life crisis, which is actually quite hilarious," said Meehan.

Kay's experience notwithstanding, another challenge for Harley-Davidson is
motorcycling simply isn't a major part of people's upbringing like it was
once, Malenshek said.

"If you think about Baby Boomers, they probably were brought up on a dirt
bike or had an uncle or a neighbor or something who was riding around in a
Harley-Davidson. That may not be the case today," she said.

She said the company's CEO, Matthew Levatich, is encouraging employees to
engage people in conversations about motorcycling if someone happens to
say, "Nice bike." Melanshek took that to heart during an interaction with
someone at a gas station who complimented her on her motorcycle and told
her he'd never thought about riding.

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Nomen Nescio

May 28, 2018, 4:52:03 PM5/28/18
In article <XnsA8F06A9FD2...@>
"Leroy N. Soetoro" <> wrote:
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