OCONOMOWOC — It’s no secret that sales of heavyweight
motorcycles across the U.S. have been sliding. Recent
reports show Harley-Davidson’s sales fell sharply in
2017, and it has been announced that the company will
consolidate its manufacturing operations.
Some industry experts believe that baby boomers are
aging out of the market and a reported lack of interest
from younger millennial buyers in the large, loud bikes
could keep domestic sales down. At the same time, some
of Harley’s foreign competitors have been able to
benefit from a strong U.S. dollar, selling their bikes
in this country at lower prices.
Amid the changes in the marketplace, area motorcycle
dealerships would seem to have their work cut out for
them as they entertain ways to encourage sales this
summer. They are, nevertheless, optimistic about their
are somewhat unique in the way we engage our customers.
We hold a lot of events that appeal to a broad range of
people,” said Dianne Crowley, marketing and events
manager for Wisconsin Harley-Davidson in Oconomowoc.
have our annual Honor Ride to the War Memorial in
Milwaukee on Memorial Day weekend, which honors our
veterans and their families. In August, we’re holding
our Fifth Annual Wiener Dog Derby with our racing wiener
dogs. And, of course, we’re celebrating Harley’s 115th
anniversary at the end of August. It’s going to be
huge,” she said. And that’s just a sampling.
Buyers usually take some time to make up their minds
about a major acquisition like a motorcycle and that’s a
big reason why these customer events are important.
motorcycle is not an immediate purchase. People may come
in during one of our events and see something they like.
They’ll go home and think about it and come back later,”
Crowley said, noting that they continue to see the core
40 to 60-year-olds, as well as women and younger riders.
“We’re even getting non-riders into our store,” she
Indian Motorcycles of Metro Milwaukee also holds a slew
of customer appreciation events including a monthly Iron
Horse Bike Night at the Iron Horse Hotel, group rides,
and “demo days” when customers can test drive any
motorcycle in the Indian lineup. These events are all
designed to introduce potential buyers to the Indian
“Being a little bit of the underdog, we’re working a
little harder,” said Rob Schopf, co-owner of the
dealership with his wife, Cindy, and partner Dave Davis.
“We are on social media, we’re tweeting, we’re on
Instagram, we do a ton of mailers, and we’re sending out
email blasts. We’re trying to think of everything
possible to communicate with customers. If it’s not
raining or snowing, we’re busy doing something.”
Efforts by Indian dealerships like Schopf’s appear to be
paying off. Overall, while still trailing
Harley-Davison, Indian Motorcycle is showing significant
growth, according to parent company Polaris Industries.
Dealerships that focus on smaller motorcycles and
scooters are engaging younger customers without trying
too hard. That includes the sometimes difficult to gauge
millennial generation. Don & Roy’s Motorsports in
Brookfield carries some heavyweight motorcycles, but
also sells lighter, faster bikes in the 300 cc to 900 cc
range with price tags of $4,000 to $7,000.
Sales of these smaller bikes to younger riders are
increasing, said Van Zelst. “We are seeing a 20 percent
increase year over year in that segment of the market,
but we’re also selling to other age groups,” he said.
“More mature bikers tend to buy the big dollar touring
bikes, but younger buyers are looking at price and
affordability, something to just meet their needs. They
want something to drive around town, to take a friend
for a ride. When these customers come in, they have done
their homework,” said Van Zelst. “The sport bikes are
not intimidating in any way; they’re lighter and easier
to ride. The strength is in the product and the price of
the product,” he said.
Harley and Indian are also targeting younger
up-and-coming riders with smaller bikes. Along those
lines, Harley has announced that an electric production
model would be available around the middle of 2019.