Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Boomers’ Category

It could be the title of Harley-Davidson CEO, Matt Levatich’s memoir on his failed 2017 year while in charge of the Motor Company.

I happen to be riding with the HOG Lewis and Clark Expedition last week when Harley-Davidson announced their disappointing Q2’17 financial results and late to weigh in:

* Harley-Davidson net income dropped 7.7%. Sales in the U.S. were down 9.3% and 6.7% worldwide.

* Harley-Davidson now expects to ship 241,000 to 246,000 motorcycles to dealers worldwide in 2017, which is down approximately 6% to 8% from 2016.

* Harley-Davidson expects to ship 39,000 to 44,000 motorcycles in Q3’17, which is down approximately 10% to 20% from 2016.

* Approx 180 U.S. based manufacturing jobs will be cut in Menomonee Falls and Kansas City.  This in addition to the 118 workers who were axed back in April this year at the York plant as some positions were being shifted to Kansas City.

For those keeping track, this is a continuation of a three-year slide by the motor company.  However, during the call Mr. Levatich described what can only be called an “alternative reality” in hopes (I assume?) to reassure the financial markets and stated “we are going to build bikers first, add 2 million new Harley-Davidson riders and launch 100 brand new models during the next 10 years while growing the international business by 50%.

Huh?

I’m being a bit snarky here, but his statement appears either woefully naïve to the point of negligence or a continuance of marketing spin.  Proclaiming an unprecedented future result of this magnitude smells like stunningly wishful thinking at best or at worst plain lying.  For reasons I can’t explain, why would Mr. Levatich climb up on a high-wire without a net given such an overly-optimistic prediction?  Even with nearly 8-million Americans that are “sleeping license holders,” — those who have motorcycle riding credentials, but don’t own a bike — it doesn’t pencil and seems unobtainable.

I don’t know if the boardroom folks in Milwaukee read the NW Harley Blog on a regular basis and/or  hang on its every word.  But, we know the motor company has been continuously producing motorcycles for more than a century,  yet seemingly everyone on the internet with a keyboard thinks they can do it better.

And it’s a well-established fact that internet bloggers and commenters are geniuses. They definitely know how to run a business better than a company that has been constantly producing motorcycles through two world wars, the Great Depression, and roughly 20 U.S. recessions.

Sure the motor company needs our help and I’ve got some feedback and plenty of comments.  But, until the motor company calls me asking for it, I’ll look for Mr. Levatich’s memoir, which will certainly be “a deeply intimate account and a cautionary tale on the world’s most iconic motorcycle brand.

Slightly modified book cover courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

Read Full Post »

A Marketing Staff Meeting at H-D?

Reflection of a Marketing staff meeting at H-D?

I don’t know who the people in “People” are and candidly I don’t care.  I use to have some casual interest, but as I’ve aged, I realized that promoting faux stars is how an industry makes itself feel good about itself.

 
I grew up in a different time.  Yes, I’m getting older, put me down for it, as some readers do, but unlike some of you I’m wise and experienced. And when I grew up, hard work, a bit of skill and insight would not only get you a house in a reasonable neighborhood, but the ability to support your family and go on vacation. Now, most people can’t even pay their bills.

When you think of “aging boomers,” what comes to mind?  Accelerating retirements, workforce skill shortages, stagnant incomes, or runaway health care spending?  It’s unlikely you think about aging as an economic drag on Harley-Davidson, right?
H-D History

H-D History

Down the road from my place, in the rolling farmlands north of Sunset Highway (U.S. 26), is a greasy burger joint called Helvetia Tavern … a place I’ve been known to frequent a little more often than my doctor might recommend, but the burgers are oh so good!  If you stop there on any given summer weekend, you might see a dozen or more bikers parked in the lot, who are talking bikes and showing off their blacked-out or chrome-laden Harleys.  And nearly all of them are over the age of 45. Many are over 50.

This isn’t a coincidence.  Harley-Davidson is a brand whose sales depend disproportionately — almost exclusively, in fact — on middle-aged males. There have been business case studies written and stock investment analysis looking at the H-D demographics while espousing doom and gloom for the company.  The fact is that motor company has been working hard to try and capture a younger, more diverse set of riders, including women and are trying to appeal to the less experienced and younger riders who want cheaper alternatives.

Blackline Appeal

Blackline Appeal

I would submit that riders younger than 30 generally lack the time, interest or the bankroll to buy a Harley for touring. And by the time they get into their 50s or older, riding with the wind in the face loses it’s allure.  It’s the noise, it’s the traffic, it’s the increased dangers, it’s the joint pain of long rides, it’s hot, it’s cold, it’s raining, it’s… always something.

I know that many of you are riding into your late 60s, but my observation is you’re doing it less frequently and you’re not buying a new bike as often as you might have in your 40’s.  That means Harley has a growth problem with the boomer demographic that will not go away.  Even with a robust economy which we are not experiencing.

But, this is all well documented and debatably old news (“Living High on the Hog” (WSJ: February 5, 2007).

Looking at the challenges...

Looking at the H-D boomer challenges…

The challenge for Harley-Davidson, in my view, is how they will continue to tap into the enormous resource that older Americans can provide?  Boomers are generally healthier and more educated than prior generations.  They are the largest group starting new businesses both in Oregon and nationally.  And many economic projections about aging are misguided because they are based on outdated notions about retirement and what it means to grow older.

I can speak with some authority on this aging topic and it’s debatable whether Harley-Davidson can grow if boomers decide to quit riding in mass.  I wanted to offer up some observations:

  • Boomers are bombarded by media.  In an attention overload society it’s very hard for the message to get noticed because it’s noisy out there and hype is more prevalent than ever.
  • Boomers believe everything they’re into should last forever, but it doesn’t, just like them.
  • Have all the latest gadgets but barely know how to use them.
  • Boomers know the lyrics of “Hotel California.”
  • The boomers can’t square looking good with feeling bad. All the hogwash about 50 being the new 30 and 60 being the new 40 has convinced them that they’re breaking the laws of science, but the truth is people break down, everybody does.
  • Want to be anti TV, but talk about doing Netflix marathons.
  • Were into the Great Society, but now don’t want to pay taxes, especially if the benefits don’t flow to them.
  • Believed boil-able vegetable bags by the Green Giant were the future only to find out fresh and local was truly “in.”
  • Thought college was where you grew up and learned something as opposed to overpaying for an entry ticket to a job.
  • Still believe in government, and that their voice and vote counts.
  • Know that you work ever harder for less money.
  • Remember when companies were loyal.
  • Remember when you fixed stuff, now you just throw it out and buy a new one.
  • Want manufacturing to come back to the U.S., but still want very cheap electronics.
  • Boomers talk about their health. The pills they take, the conditions they have, it comes up in conversation, and it doesn’t bug them, it’s akin to discussing bands when they were younger.
  • Realize opportunity has slipped through their fingers. But are still dreamers nonetheless.
  • Baseball, motorcycles and big block automobiles are so twentieth century.  Baby boomers don’t stop talking about them, but their kids shrug their shoulders and lust for the latest mobile device.

Sure some of these observations are broad generalities and I’m painting a large group with a wide brush here, but I’m sure something resonated, right?   Once upon a time the baby boomers were the younger generation, champing at the bit to replace our parents. But now we’re fading off into the sunset, just like Letterman.  So long the era of the baby boomers. They were the largest segment of the population, who pushed and pulled and help change the world.

But, let’s face it, aging isn’t so much about the fact that we are getting older.  It’s about how the motor company is always going after the young buyer and often denigrates or discounts the older demographic.  They make an assumption that today’s Americans will behave in much the same way as prior cohorts did.  I don’t know about you, but boomers in general have reshaped every element of society as they’ve aged.  And, I would submit that Harley-Davidson is placing a disproportionate amount of focus and customer feedback on the youth lifestyle.  Sean Cummings, H-D senior vice president of global demand reinforced this by stating:  “We’re targeting the 55 million Generation X’ers to get them back out and riding.”  In doing so, it makes it harder for Harley to keep a finger on the pulse of the aging motorcyclist.

It might be someone else’s time (looking at you Millennials and GenX), but what is not fixed is how affluent boomers respond to Harley-Davidson motorcycle changes.  You have to give boomers motorcycles/features they can get excited about and you can’t be too catering to old age.  No one likes to admit they’re getting older and at the other end of the spectrum you’ll alienate the entire boomer group if you cater to youth.

Power, sex and youth have long been used to sell motorcycles, so anything that suggests older buyers might not be as virile and agile as they were could backfire and only serve to fulfill the “Silver Tsunami.”

Photos courtesy of marketoonist.com and H-D.
All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Read Full Post »

H-D LiveWire

H-D LiveWire

Charged up, amped out and delivers a jolt…

Just a few of the colorful words used to describe the Harley-Davidson LiveWire which has received so much free and fawning press coverage about the prototype electric motorcycle that you’d think they invented electricity.

I get it.  The motor company builds good products, but does it really deserve wave after wave of gushing prose in every news article?  I blogged previously about the announcement HERE.

Let’s keep it real.  Is LiveWire any better than the other electric motorcycles on the market?  What are the rider advantages of LiveWire vs. other electric rides?  Are there drawbacks of an increasing reliance on electricity for transportation?  No one is reporting on anything other than regurgitating the marketing talking points.

Has the press failed to notice that there are many electric bikes already in use by riders and a growing number of police departments across the country?  From New York to Oregon, and around the world, including in Bogota, Colombia and Hong Kong.  The police versions of the “Empulse LE” by Brammo, Inc., based in Ashland, Ore., and the “DS” by Zero Motorcycles immediately come to mind.

But it gets worse.  The Harley-Davidson president, Matt Levatich tells the world during the LiveWire press tour that Harley’s are longer just for old guys…  Huh?

He must have been basking in a special Milwaukee sun-imitating light that failed to fend off seasonal affective disorder with that alluringly sales quote.

It happened at the Lower Manhattan Harley dealer during the recent LiveWire electric motorcycle test rides.  Mr. Levatich tells the press that Harley would not be forgetting its core customers who want old-fashioned motorcycles.  “We’re absolutely not abandoning any of that,” he stated.  “We’re going to continue to invest in the great traditional Harley-Davidson motorcycles…

As a current core customer, I guess I’m one of the riders only interested in “old-fashioned” motorcycles?  Hey Harley, hashtag this…  #YoureDoingItWrong.

Wow, nothing like slighting the mature motorcycle rider base, the base that has been paying the company bills with a back-handed comment that is clearly all about reaching out to Gen-X’ers and Millennials.  There’s a thin line between appealing to Millennials and pandering.

Yeah, I get wanting to open new doors to people that are outside of the motorcycle sport and only know the brand for its t-shirts.  But, that “old-fashioned” reference is as if Harley has come to terms with an electric future, which excludes their current customers, so let’s spit out aging and old-fashioned insults at them.

If Harley-Davidson LiveWire is “only looking at rider feedback at the moment” then why all the publicity?  You might recall that prior to Project RUSHMORE rolling out on the touring bikes there wasn’t a peep until it launched.  The motor company has by design crafted a publicity stunt and worked at driving social media outreach.  It’s a marketing campaign pure and simple.  And thanks to Harley, Zero had their biggest single day of Internet traffic in the history of the company on the day Harley made its announcement, according to Scott Harden, VP of global marketing for Zero Motorcycles.

Shouldn’t Harley-Davidson be talking to the “right” riders?  And H.O.G. grey-beards aren’t exactly the wrong people to be getting input from, but relying on this user base for feedback on this new GenX or “Millennial” motorcycle is unlikely the most salient feedback from the “right” people.  Shouldn’t they look for those Portlandia-esque grown men on BMX bikes who are ‘riding’ to weekend pubcrawls and who make their living in a variety of ways — some legally and others by any means within their particular skill set?

The fact is that future customers could be from newly wealthy Chinese looking for style, city-dwelling Millennials who need utility and affordability or retirees who want a trike that doesn’t embarrass them.

Whether electrics take off is anyone’s guess and your welcome to label me a gas station-centric oldster.

Photo courtesy of H-D.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Read Full Post »

Kingfisher-LogoI’m talking about Kingfisher.

Beer was introduced into India by the British, who eventually set up a brewery that produced Asia’s first beer — a pale ale called Lion. However, these days, lager is the only type of beer you’ll find available in India and “The King of Good Times” is Kingfisher.

It’s India’s most recognized and widely available beer. Its name has been associated with sports, fashion, and even an airline.

And sooner than anyone would have thought… in Bawal, India a Harley-Davidson assembly line worker will be having a Kingfisher and relaxing with co-workers.

But, I’ve gotten ahead of myself…  let’s jump into the the way back machine and set the dial for — 2009.

The fact is we must focus both our effort and our investment on the Harley-Davidson brand, as we believe this provides an optimal path to sustained, meaningful long-term growth,” said CEO Keith Wandell at the October 15, 2009 announcement to discontinue production of Buell motorcycles.  On October 30, 2009 the last Buell (Lightning XB12Scg) rolled off the company’s East Troy, Wisconsin. assembly line.  It was the last of the 136,923 motorcycles built in the company’s 26 years of operation.

Harley-Davidson Street 750

Harley-Davidson Street 750

It was a combination of factors in making the decision, but essentially the global recession forced a reckoning and Harley-Davidson decided to refocus on its tent pole products or what I’d call doubling down on its core lineup of heavyweight bikes.  As a result, the motor company abandoned entry level motorcycles (Buell Blast), exited the sport bike (Buell and sold MV) and thumb their noses at the adventure market (Buell Ulysses).   In the process the motor company made a lot of motorcycle enthusiasts upset about what looked like a myopic approach of only looking at spreadsheets versus doing a bit more market research and addressing a need.

Jump ahead 4-years and witness the financial rebound of the company and the launch this week of the new Harley-Davidson Street 750 and Street 500 motorcycles.  Could it be a Buell Blast ReDeux?  The smaller 500cc motorcycle basically fills a void left when they discontinued the Buell motorcycle line which included the 492cc Buell Blast.  More important in this announcement is the fact that the motorcycles will be made both in the U.S. and Bawal, India, marking the first time the company will manufacture a complete motorcycle at an overseas facility.  I’ll repeat that… the first time the company will manufacture a complete motorcycle outside the U.S.!

Harley-Davidson Street 750  (Side View)

Harley-Davidson Street 750 (Side View)

The manufacturing news in of itself will be fodder for many future blog posts, but sticking to the motorcycle announcement, the new ‘Street’ bikes are the first Harley-Davidson motorcycles to be designed from scratch since the V-Rod 13 years ago.

It makes this Road Glide owner wonder if that’s an indicator of where all the engineers were redirected in lieu of updating the ‘Glide’ with the all new Project RUSHMORE features that were incorporated into the new 2014 touring models?

The fact is the company has aggressively expanded its marketing efforts because realistically, there is no replacing white Baby Boomer men. And this means they have to attract younger men, non-Caucasian men, women, and do that from countries as disparate as India, Italy, Brazil and the U.S. with much more success.  By turning inwards, relying on a single-brand tradition and nationalism over the last 4-years and divesting itself of brands that were dimming the lights on a brighter future–the motor company can and now has expanded into other segments.

At the Street 750/500 announcement the Harley-Davidson, CEO Keith Wandell said, “The younger riders don’t want their dad’s chromed-out Harley,” “They want the Dark Custom, sinister look, the ability to rebel.

Sounds like a bit of marketing spin, but with more than half of its dealerships outside the U.S., Harley-Davidson has really put a lot of investment behind a push to expand and broaden its customer base including new motorcycle buyers–worldwide.

Photo’s courtesy of H-D and Kingfisher.  Note: Kingfisher, “The King of Good Times”, is India’s most recognized and widely available beer. Its name has been associated with sports, fashion, and even an airline.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Read Full Post »

Fair Weather Riders

Fair Weather Riders

It seems that May is déjà vu all over again.

It marks the start of the motorcycle safety awareness month which is shortly followed by accident reports or dumb and dumber maneuvers by  motorcycle riders.

The first in Oregon was the 10am arrest of Jessica Peterson (28 years old) on the first day of Motorcycle Awareness Month.  The charges were assault in the 2nd degree, DUI and reckless driving.  Ms. Petersen crossed over into oncoming traffic and struck Chase Dillon Ivey (26 years old) on his Suzuki motorcycle.  At last report Mr. Ivey was in serious condition at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.

The opening weekend of Motorcycle Awareness in Washington state wasn’t any better where 3 deaths in two motorcycle crashes on highway 101 in Western Washington occurred.  In Idaho, just a few days earlier three motorcyclists died.

And as if that wasn’t enough to bring a lot of attention to rider safety and the tragic events, on May 6th on Highway 97 south of Lapine, Oregon, Gregory Zaser (61 years old) was cited for speeding – 130mph in a 55mph zone – on a Ducati motorcycle.  According to Trooper Newcomb, Mr. Zaser had just purchased the Ducati (bagger) and wanted to “see what it would do”…

Spoken just like a true attention-grabbing teenager!

I searched and found nothing mentioned on the Desmos web site about this new break-in procedure from Ducati.  And combine that with the fact that Highway 97 is notorious for wild animals standing peacefully on the roadway… I think Mr. Zaser is lucky to walk away with only a huge ticket!

My point?  Other than calling out Mr. Zaser’s attempt to revive the art of fossilized manliness and giving motorcyclists a bad image?!

We’re coming off 3-weeks of incredibly nice weather here in the northwest and motorcycles have been out in force.  Many riders in the state are fair(er) weather riders and for the first time pulling out their motorcycle from storage.  An experienced rider once shared with me that when you’re riding on a motorcycle you’ve always got to watch out for everyone else around you.  And I’ve noticed more than ever the freeways in the Portland metro area are full of people on the phone – talking and texting – changing lanes or swerving and not using blinkers because they’re just not paying attention to their surroundings.

It’s not my intention to pick on a particular group of drivers or riders, but I wanted to reinforce the conversation about motorcycle safety.  A high percentage of accidents are rider caused and preventable.  Make smart decisions on the road.

Photo courtesy of George Toomer

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Read Full Post »

belushianddanThe Baby Boomer generation is a source of trends, research and discussion of and by people born from 1946 – 1964.

The “Boomers” are a key demographic, with plenty of disposable income and make up a major share of people who buy and ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

So, it’s rather ironic when Dan Aykroyd yesterday wrote to his fans online that he had offered to have the Blues Brothers open for Kid Rock at Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary celebration, but executives apparently told him that they were “too old for (their) desired demographic”.

Huh?  Really H-D.  REALLY!

This ranks right up there as the biggest marketing no brainer in the history of no brainers, but H-D exec’s say no and then add a shameless insult that is deliberately offensive to the aging hipsters and largest customer segment for the motor company?!

aykroyd-FBHere is the actual text:  Offered Blues Brothers to open for Kid Rock at Harley-Davidson 110th anniversary.  H-D execs. say B.B.’s too old… fb.me/27MHI7iYw — Dan Aykroyd (@dan_aykroyd) May 10, 2013

You might recall that Kid Rock is scheduled as the headliner for the event’s third and final night on Saturday, Aug. 31 in Milwaukee.

The Blues Brothers formed in 1978 and featured Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as part of a musical sketch on Saturday Night Live. Their debut album, “Briefcase Full of Blues”  went to number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.  In 1980, John Landis directed the “Blues Brothers” movie which according to Box Office Mojo, remains the 13th highest grossing film in both the ‘Musical‘ and ‘Comedy – Road Trip‘ categories and likewise ranks as having the 13th highest box office earnings for films opening in limited release.

Hey Harley-Davidson…  ever hear of Bikes, Blues and BBQ?  How about The Blues Bothers Ride?  You don’t stop riding because you get old; you get old because you stop riding!

Is it time for a public apology and to make a truly informed decision rather than sending out open insults to your customer base?

Photo courtesy of Facebook and meoutfit.com.  Rawhide video HERE.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Read Full Post »

Long-way-thereWritten by Graeham Goble on June 2, 1972.  Nearly 40-years ago!

Only in his early 20’s when he left home in Adelaide to pursue a music career in Melbourne, Australia.  He became home sick and initially traveled back and forth by car every three weeks to see his family.  The trip often took over 9 hours and the idea for the song came from one of those long trips home.

This is all a set-up for that moment in the fall of ’76 when I was driving through the snow covered heartland of North Dakota and heard this song for the first time.  One of the things you’ll notice about North Dakota is how proud NoDaks are of their state.  Another thing you notice is how geographically diverse North Dakota is. It’s of course flat in most parts, but intermixed with a lot of rolling hills and green. And there are sections of the state that have buttes as far as the eye can see.

But, I’ve digressed.

Nodak-RGIt was the early days of FM radio.  You remember radio without advertisements, right?!  And I hear these swirling strings and then cappella harmonies and the track proceeds to positively rock out.  For nearly 10-minutes!  The youth of today have never heard a song uninterrupted for 10-minutes on radio.

I’m talking about the song, “It’s A Long Way There” by The Little River Band (LRB).

“People on the road are getting nowhere
I’m on the road to see
If anything is anywhere and waiting just for me”

It’s one of those songs that sounds as great today as the day it was released.

LRB-Album CoverI came home, ripped off the album shrinkwrap and dropped the needle and…  with big speakers, and large amps you could actually see the instruments come alive in the speakers.  In those days it was not an earbud nation!

What I truly enjoyed most about the seventies music was it wasn’t cookie-cutter.  There was even a time I thought I had a future in music.  It was really a long way to where I was going.  Sometime I’ll tell you my history, because I haven’t been writing this blog drivel forever and it took me years to find a niche.

That was 1976 and now, in 2013, LRB is still touring the U.S., but sadly with NO original members. Through a bizarre legal situation, the original members lost the rights to the ‘Little River Band’ name and Trademark.  Now it’s Birtles, Shorrock and Goble (BSG).

Harley’s touring bikes are built for American roads and as you lollop along with the engine thudding crank up  LRB, and “It’s A Long Way There”.  It’s an exquisitely recorded gem from the good ‘ol days that is a perfect companion for that road trip playlist. HERE is a more recent performance.

Check it out.

Photo’s taken by the author, album cover courtesy of LRB.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: