Learning from the Motorcycle Industry

Ensuring the Success of Our Industry

I have been studying the current contraction in the powersports industry and it scares me. As Harley sales boomed in the 1990s, the Japanese brands shifted to big twin products to capture some of that market. As a result, the industry experienced incredible sales for two decades, but they ignored the youth market and did not continue to fill the pipeline with new potential customers.

Now that boomers are starting to get older and aren’t riding as often, the next gen is not interested in motorcycling because they weren’t brought up around Trail 80s and scramblers and little bikes most of us rode as kids – the industry was too focused on selling big twins to older customers. As a result, the market is contracting quickly. One of their biggest WDs just declared bankruptcy, the OEMs are suffering and dealers are folding. Even strong side-by-side sales can’t help, because many of these vehicles are sold at boat and RV dealerships as well as motorcycle shops.

This is a dark preview of what could happen in our industry if we don’t move quickly and decisively. We need to fill our pipeline with new engaged consumers, we need to adapt both our product focus and our marketing strategies so that we accommodate the current customers while preparing for a totally new mindset from the next gen, and we need to pivot our sales and distribution model to make it as easy as possible for consumers to both be exposed to our culture and to buy our products.

Most importantly, we need our members to be ready to make the products the next wave of consumers gets excited about. That’s a lot for a trade association, but with collaborative work, long-range planning, proper use of big data and market research and engaging educational programs for our members I believe we can do it to ensure the survival and continued success of our industry.