Archive for August 19th, 2008

I’m a week away and unfortunately missed the return of happier days and the “Bronze Fonz” dedication

This week Henry Winkler was in Milwaukee to dedicate a Fonzie statue (located on the west side of the river at the Rock Bottom Brewery) along with Anson Williams (Potsie) who toured the Harley-Davidson museum and even Cindy Williams from Laverne & Shirley stopped by the Miller brewery.  I guess to reminisce about Schotz Brewery, a fictitious analogy to “the beer that made Milwaukee famous”… the Joseph Schlitz brewing company.

The show Happy Days ran for 11 seasons on ABC starting in 1974 and was cancelled in 1984.  It was inspired by the real-life experiences of Thomas Miller who served as exec producer on the series and grew up in Milwaukee.  

A lot has changed in Milwaukee in the past 25 years  The positive aspects of TV for one and the good nature and optimism of life. The Milky Way Drive-In which was the original inspiration of Arnolds Drive-In has long since been demolished and clearly Joanie no longer loves Chachi (Erin Moran and Scott Baio) a testament to how life is now much tougher to live.

For those of you who are too young to remember or too old and can’t get enough of the show here is an online tribute site.

Oh yeah, for those of you curious about which type motorcycle “The Fonz” rode during the 11 seasons…in the early days he rode a custom Harley Knucklehead then drove a variety of other bikes like a Triumph (TR6 Trophy), Triumph 500 cc twin and a BSA.  In real life Henry Winkler was afraid of motorcycles.  In the only scene he was ever taped riding a Triumph he didn’t know how to stop the bike and crashed into two production assistants.

Poster courtesy of the web site.

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S&S Cycle celebrated its 50 year anniversary in June.  Sadly the company announced this week that it would “release” 60 employees through a combination of voluntary separation and layoffs, most of which were made at the engine company’s plant in Viola, Wis., but a couple positions were eliminated at the La Crosse, Wis., location too.  Two weeks ago the company offered up voluntary separation packages that 33 employees accepted, but even that couldn’t stop the decline. 

Much has been written of late on the motorcycle parts business, it’s health and the difficulties facing aftermarket manufactures and their distribution networks.  Clearly motorcycle sales are down and the reduced discretionary spending on parts has Drag Specialties, Bikers Choice, and Custom Chrome all singing the blues while more consumers head to the internet for bargains.  I wonder if it’s really lack of sales or a  deeper industry problem caused by lack of differentiation?  Pick up any parts catalog and everything looks similar with price and availability being the main difference. 

S&S started out with one goal in mind, the vision of founder George Smith-to make all motorcycles go faster.  With that mantra in mind the second and third generations of Smith family have steered the company as a leader in high-performance v-twin components and engines.  The S&S core business of bolt-on, high-performance motors remains strong, but with the bankruptcy asset sale of Global Motorsport Group to Dae-Li USA (a Korean group) and makers of RevTech engines I wonder if this is an early prediction of aftermarket directions?  Nace Panzica (founder of Custom Chrome) is the president of Dae-Li USA.

It’s all about the bottom line numbers…and the register is not ringing.

Register photo courtesy of Flickr/Zizzy.

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MV Agusta - 1078RR

MV Agusta - 1078RR

You’re an executive at Harley-Davidson.  Gas prices are up, rally attendance is down, product costs are increasing, product sales are in free-fall, you’re customer demographic is aging, the economy is stalled and the housing bubble prevents people from fun-filled-equity-financing.

You dig deep into the Harvard Business School memories and determine what to do?  Buy an Italian motorcycle company (MV Agusta Group) for $108M of course!  WTF?  Harley completed the acquisition of MV Agusta in July,  but until recently I couldn’t wrap my head around this or understand the complimentary connection to the beer drinking Milwaukee company vs. the high-flying invitation-only cocktail soiree that MV Agusta typically entertains.

MV Agusta Factory - Varese, Italy

MV Agusta Factory - Varese, Italy

But, I get it now!   It’s about wine and Harley execs jet setting to Milan for private VIP parties to swap race stories with makers of high-end Italian brands in what can only be described as a marketing orgy to portray the ultimate in luxury and style.

Let’s break it down.  Fly into Varese on a direct international flight and land in northern Italy…about an hour from Milan.  Grab a room at the Palace Grand Hotel and catch a glance out the window to see a spectacular view of Lake Varese below.  The Palace Grand Hotel was built on top of a hill overlooking the town and lake below. Built over 100 years ago the structure is magnificent, and also happened to be owned by Claudio Castiglioni who was once president of Cagiva and MV Agusta.

MV Agusta is the Italian national symbol of motorcycling prestige and technology, and represents the ultimate in terms of engineering.  They must have held candlelight vigils after hearing about the Harley merger?   I learned the secret to this merger is the approximately 195 wineries located near the factory!  The Corso di Porta Ticinese is a popular place for young people to hang out and is home to many notable churches.  During the day the Harley execs can do long lunches drinking world-class wine and then visit the many boutiques, ateliers, craftsmen workshops and when the sun goes down the canal area transforms into a colorful nightlife where the Milwaukee “jetsetters” hang-out to be seen in the various clubs.

In my view this acquisition is a train wreck.  The concepts of cross-engineering or having a modern product that is consistent with an aristocratic past…is like walking around with a Girard-Perreguax watch, Trussardi jacket and camo-print cargo shorts that show off cotton white socks in tan nubuck boots.  This unusual sense of cool as a “Trussardi-wearing hipster” will not inject soul into the Harley brand or bring about positive word-of-mouth buzz for either party.  There is significant engineering/product overlap with Buell and someone needs to rehabilitate the overexposed, wine drinking executive staff.

This is a magazine shoot – not real life.


Photo courtesy of MV Agusta web site.

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