This is a subject I have held off on bringing up for many years, simply because I know I was part of the problem many moons past.
Twenty years ago, I used to work in a motorcycle dealership. It was run by an old lady named Anne Harris, along with two business partners, one being her husband.
This lady was a tiger in business. I was constantly in awe of her ability to remember a customer’s name and the motorcycle he rode, even if he’d sold that bike 20 years ago. It was a guaranteed way to ensure repeat business, as for many, walking into the dealership was like going to the bar where the bar tender knew your name and your drink.
I always look back on my time at the dealership with fondness, but, if I’m honest, I was a naïve 16-year-old dirtbag with not a single customer service bone in my body. In my delusional skull sponge, I was there not to learn about the business of running a motorcycle dealership, but to simply earn some money and get discounts I could use in my professional road-racing endeavors—which never went any further than the end of the dealership driveway.
Years later, I went back into the same dealership to buy some oil for my Yamaha YZ450F. The shop had changed owners in the 10-plus years since my last visit, and I noticed a definite change.
I sat at the same parts counter I used to man with three employees chatting amongst themselves until they finally heard me clear my throat for what seemed like the 15th time. No shit, it took a good minute or so for them to acknowledge me, even though I was right in front of their faces. If Anne had seen me do that I would have been shanked, and with good reason.
It was the last time I went back to my old workplace.
Sadly, this is phenomenon of useless dealership service is not confined to my country of Australia. My dealings with American dealerships have ranged from good to very occasionally very good, but so many times, they have been rubbish.
It’s like some people who staff dealership floors go out of their way to make the experience of buying gear, parts and, god forbid, an actual motorcycle, nothing more than a total ball ache.
Just the other day I got some tires fitted, and as I walked out and said, “thanks!” in a happy voice, the person behind the counter didn’t budge. No acknowledgement, no nothing. Just staring at the phone.
But, you know what, I get it. I used to work in a dealership and some of the utter basket cases you need to deal with are enough to knock the enthusiasm out of anyone. Then again, I’m sure the same is true if you work somewhere like Souplantation.
My personal opinion is crappy dealership experiences have a lot to do with the dwindling number of riders on our roads. And I’m not the only one who thinks this. A few months back, industry stalwart Robert Pandya released a telling PDF (which you can read here) under his Give A Shift movement that highlights the current state of many dealerships across the country.
“We may be at a crossroads where “old-school salesmanship” is a dying art, and the adoption of modern retail technique is far too slow for the current dealership model,” the report said. “The variety and types of motorcycle products on the market is compelling and diverse with many subsets of styles and technology. However, the same crowded sales floor can create an overload to new riders where the same variety leads to a paralysis of sorts. Being enchanted by motorcycling can quickly be dulled by a poor, confusing, or dismissive dealership experience.”
One thing that strikes me when I walk into any number of dealerships is the floor space has probably been the same since before my dad got his license—and certainly the same since the time I worked in one. Is it time for dealerships to dramatically alter their platforms from being a floor space crammed in with stock, parts, gear and dirty counter tops to a more online presence? Or is the old model still valid, where the bike shop remains king and that’s where you go to become a real motorcyclist? Or is it a combination of both, where you do most the shopping online but go to the shop to pick stuff up?
I genuinely have no idea how to fix a dealership other than I know when I walk into one, I want the person serving me to be more knowledgeable and passionate about motorcycling than me, and to look like they want to be there. Maybe I’m living in a fool’s paradise and the old way of serving motorcycle riders is truly dead, but we can’t admit it to ourselves because we don’t know what the solution is.
I don’t think it’s got to that stage just yet. The reason being, the motorcycle industry—by and large—is not the place you go to make your fortune. It’s a passion-driven industry driven by passionate people who are there because they want to be, not because they have to.
But people’s buying habits are changing and we have to change with them. Have a look at Revzilla. Those guys came into the online quasi-dealership space and properly slaughtered it—and they have a storefront. They are an example of how thinking outside the box can reap gigantic rewards. Dealerships as a whole need to do the same. CN