There was a time, many years ago, when Honda MPE (Motorcycles, Power Equipment) in Australia was either so sure of Goldwing sales or alternatively so doubtful about Goldwing sales that they restricted the availability of the big bikes to special ‘Goldwing dealers’. I am not sure how they determined who would become one of the select few, but I assume it had something to do with the quality of their client service, or maybe just sales volume. If, er, little ol’ Jack Spratt Motorcycles had a buyer for a ‘Wing, he had to source it through one of the favoured few and cede to them a certain amount of the margin on the bike.

No, I have no idea what they thought they were doing, either. But I do suspect that the requirement for superior client relationships had something to do with it. Mind you, this could backfire. Here is an anecdote related to me by a salesman at a shop that sold Harley-Davidsons and Hondas, and had been appointed a Goldwing dealer.

A gentleman had arranged to buy a Goldwing and came in to collect it. He finished the paperwork and said: “How about the farkles” (except he didn’t say ‘farkles’ because that wasn’t a thing then, but that’s what he meant). With an embarrassed shrug of the shoulders, my informant directed his attention to a small glass display cabinet which contained some belt buckles and lapel pins.

“That’s it?” said the customer. ”What’s all this other stuff on the walls and in the shelves?” – “That,” he was informed, “is Harley-Davidson aftermarket gear.” – “Is it too late to change my order?” the customer asked. –“No, not at all,” said my friend the salesman. “Step right this way, sir. Now this is what we call an ElectraGlide…”

I don’t pretend that the conversation is word perfect, but that’s how it went.

Fairways Motorcycles in Rockhampton, Queensland had the right approach last time I was there.

Quite apart from Honda’s inability to get its corporate mind around aftermarket accessory sales at the time (different departments were responsible for bike and accessory/clothing sales), this shows the readiness of a good salesman to bend with the flow and not only get a sale, but get a more profitable one. His boss once informed me that “any salesman who lets a Harley buyer get out of the store without spending at least $5000 over the price of the bike, gets fired immediately.”

This might seem like arm twisting, but it isn’t. It is the ability to understand why someone wants a particular motorcycle, and to roll with that knowledge. It is the essence of salesmanship. Not only have you understood the buyer’s needs, you have understood his wants and you can monetise them. The buyer will leave the shop happier, though with some of the shine rubbed off the credit card.

Does this mean that Harley-Davidson salespersons were and perhaps are better at their job?

A shop does not need to be high tech to be good, as this bloke in Borneo demonstrated when he helped me out.

Not at all. It only takes a few more anecdotes to dispose of that idea. What of all the potential Buell buyers who found that the staff at their local Harley shop were not only unlikely to sing the praises of these new-fangled ‘non-Harleys’, but were actually quite ready to disparage them. “It’s not a Harley, buddy,” was all too common a reaction to interest in the bike that was already stuck right at the back of the display area. For many years even Sportsters suffered from this dismissive attitude. “You don’t want a girl’s bike, man,” the salesman would have said.

Don’t get the idea that this attitude was restricted in any way to Harley-Davidson dealers, either. In many cases, someone interested in an SV650 found her attention directed towards a GSX-R instead, while a potential KLR buyer would be steered towards the Ninjas. And so on.

It was not just the model prejudices of the sales personnel that created dissonance. It was also behaviour in general. You were female? You didn’t share the shop’s dedication to drag racing, or dirt track, or whatever? Get to the end of the queue. You’ll get “Yes, pal?” — if you’re lucky.

Is Harley-Davidson better or worse than other brands’ retailers?

You will not strike an enthusiastic response if you email a question to your dealer. Harley-Davidson, as AMD News magazine reports, leads the rate at which dealers respond to online queries with Indian, BMW and Polaris following. And they each responded only about half of the time while Honda, Kawasaki, Triumph or Yamaha dealers managed to get back to fewer than a third.

I have a friend who was a highly successful motorcycle retailer before he retired. He is still sadly missed. When he found a salesman treating a potential buyer with any measure of disdain, he took his employee aside.

“Don’t you know who that is?” he would ask. — “Er, no. Who is it?” –  ”Come on! You must know who that is!” – “No, who is it?’ the increasingly worried salesman would say. — “You really don’t know who that is?” – “Aw, no, I don’t know!” – “Well, you should! He [or quite often she] is the CUSTOMER!”

So here is the question for you. Who is it, out there in motorcycle retail land, who knows how to behave when he or she sees the customer? Is it a matter of the brand of bike that the shop sells? Is it a matter of the ownership – family, big multi-dealer, whatever? Is it the location – big city, small town, countryside? Is it the way the business chooses its employees?

This could be one of the most important questions you can answer for fellow inmates. How and where do you find motorcycle dealers with customer skills, and which brand does them best?

 

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