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Harley-Davidson reported its first quarterly loss since 1993!

No surprise given home foreclosures, unemployment fear, stalled economy and ice-cold demand for high-end, premium priced motorcycles.

For Q4’09, H-D reported revenue of $764.5M and a loss of $147.2M.  Affecting Q4’09 results was the previously announced 53.1% reduction in motorcycle shipments from the year-ago period and $167.1M in restructuring, on the Buell end-of-life costs and the MV Agusta discontinued operations.  For all of 2009; revenue was $4.29B compared to $5.58B in 2008, a 23.1% decrease; income was $70.6M in 2009 compared to $684.2M in 2008, a decrease of 89.7%.  And don’t forget all the non-cash charges related to Harley-Davidson Financial Services (HDFS).

There was a surprise in today’s financial call.  Keith Wandell, (H-D President and CEO) stated: “We also feel good about where we’re at.” Huh?

Isn’t that the kind of thinking that would have Kodak saying that they’re relying on film, or newspapers saying they’re relying on print, or music labels saying they’re relying on CDs.  Just because you can’t see the cliff from where you are, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  Remember when everyone said no one would read a book on a hand-held electronic device, and suddenly now everyone’s saying the opposite, Kindle’s got so many new competitors and Apples yet-to-be released tablet gets more press than a starlet without panties getting into a car outside a pub.

Mr. Wandell may be referring to his reactive changes the past 8 months and the hope they will restore growth. I’m skeptical, and time will tell if they are the right decisions or if management can execute with a renewed intensity.  But isn’t that just the point.  REACTION to events vs. pro-active change?!  From the outside looking in, the majority of action the company has taken seems REACTIVE.  They curb demand, shrink manufacturing, reduce structural costs, pullback on spending, slash and cut employees, sell off businesses based more on profit margins not on the contribution to the customers soul.  Motorcycle sales are down more at H-D than other manufactures.  Why?

There is a saying: “Businesses should concentrate on their customers’ needs, not on specific products.” — “Marketing Myopia” (1960); Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business School

My opinion is that H-D needs to relearn customer needs.  If you desire to appeal to your core fans, then they’ll want to know that you are in it for the motorcycle hobby/sport, not just the money.  Stop calculating how to get to millions of revenue in a spreadsheet by maximizing this and that.  Just create something rawly desirable, then the revenue will come.  A great hit is more powerful than any marketing campaign.  People don’t need motorcycles, but they want one.  When the product is great.  When it speaks to them.  When it’s seen as integral to their lives.  You’ll have something!

Photo courtesy of JupiterImages.

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