Finding Enthusiasm

UPDATE: I’m back working in the powersports business. But c’mon, you knew that would happen.

After taking approximately 16 months off from my previous gig at a local dealership I proceeded to haul RV’s around the country. Now I’m back doing what I thoroughly enjoy. After hitting a proverbial wall in the motorcycle business, which left me dazed and confused, I’ve found a new enthusiasm. I wondered if I’d ever get it back. It’s back.

We all know the struggles this motorcycle biz has had the last few years. The industry as a whole has been trying to figure out how to get previous customers to buy again and fresh blood into the sport. I’m positive there is no time being wasted or energy conserved to bring new models and ideas to fruition, while the experts are trying to get a grip on the secret recipe for growth. In spite of it all it’s really a great time to be a part of this. The flip side is getting that enthusiasm back to the dealer principles that have been feeling the weight of sluggish sales and fewer door swings.

But let’s face it, we have a generation or two not interested in smelling like exhaust, their hair styled by a helmet, or putting their disposable income on the counter of their local dealership for a new or gently used motorcycle. And of course, the internet has impacted every facet of this industry – just as it has every other brick and mortar business down the street. Let me be clear here, every business has its challenges – whether it’s competition moving into your territory, price wars or brighter/shinier objects for sale. That’s business. But the internet is open 24 hours a day and has an audience reach that can’t be rivaled. Don’t believe me? Look into the palm of my hand. Or your hand for that matter. That device we hold is our window to the world around us. Plus lower prices, free shipping and 24/7 phone support is pretty attractive, but not nearly as attractive as our friendly staff. Have you seen these faces? You would see them if you would just look up from your window to the world. Human interaction seems to be waning, would you agree?

That’s business. But the internet is open 24 hours a day and has an audience reach that can’t be rivaled. Don’t believe me? Look into the palm of my hand. Or your hand for that matter.

I can sit here and make excuses as to why inventory isn’t being moved, but do we have to make things harder than they really are? Are we truly so absorbed with the larger picture we forget the fundamentals of building a customer base and exceeding expectations during the customer buying experience?

I recently read an article online at Cycle World written by Seth Richards about his experience of trying to buy a used bike. I liked it so much I read it twice. And as a motojournalist, Seth knows bikes. As for me, someone in this business, it hit me square between the eyes. I get it. I know exactly where Seth is coming from. We as dealerships need to understand how important every customer is and how easy it is for a buyer to walk right down the information super-highway to find another bike. Oh, and with their cash in hand.

It’s true. As painful as it is for me to say, I too have walked into a dealership only to leave dumbfounded – and for a host of reasons. Not being greeted or acknowledged, a staff lacking knowledge (or even more so, a salesperson that has never ridden a motorcycle), and a retail space in disarray with faded and dusty merchandise. Attention to details? how about attention to your customers. There are also dealers that do a great job and it shows. These dealers are usually moving more merchandise because of it. I will admit, we all can do better each and every day.

I’ve wondered if the last few years of flat or negative numbers has had a larger impact on dealers than originally thought. With a combination of internet competition, lower profit margins and a switch in consumer interests from things mechanical to digital has dealers scratching their heads. But more importantly, the loss of enthusiasm and focus that pulled so many into starting a motorcycle shop in the first place. I’ve spoken with dealerships that are on the verge of closing if “this year” isn’t any better than the last. Little do they know, that may be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But more importantly, the loss of enthusiasm and focus that pulled so many into the business to begin with. I’ve spoken with dealerships that are on the verge of closing if “this year” isn’t any better than the last. Little do they know, that may be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I encourage you to read Seth’s article in the link above. He has a point – several things going wrong in the sales process cost the dealership not only a valuable sale, but also a more valuable customer. I don’t know Seth personally, but I do know folks that have had similar buying experiences with virtually the same result. The dealer maybe had a couple of opportunities to salvage the deal with Seth, but he left disappointed. I don’t blame him.

While you’re shopping online for parts, gear or bikes, I ask that you give your local shop the opportunity to earn your business. The better your relationship with your dealer, the better things will get all around. Spend a little money locally but don’t be afraid to get online as well. We are quick to rate our online experience, but in the case of Seth’s personal experience I would recommend pulling the dealer principle (if possible) aside and explaining the reason for not buying. Either they will accept this as constructive criticism or they will reinforce your decision to buy elsewhere. Thanks for the article Seth!


Next Stop – Clarityville


I often wonder what really rolls around in this head of mine when I’m on my motorcycle. I do quite a bit of thinking behind my handlebars but to pinpoint one single thing would be difficult. My thoughts bounce around to many different things and sometimes even come back to the beginning of when the ride started. I’ve said I do my best thinking inside my helmet and this still holds true, but some days it’s hard to find clarity even on a perfect ride.

I need to get beyond the familiar 22 mile ride to work. Although this daily ride is good, it has become the source of a mental block that I’m finding hard to get around. Even an additional 10 miles added to the trip or an alternate route might suffice, but I still need to head in a different direction – maybe taking the long way to Clarityville. Fresh scenery and different smells would do my noggin some good. I’ve been to Clarityville before and its a nice place to visit on your motorcycle.

Fresh scenery and different smells would do my noggin some good. I’ve been to Clarityville before and its a nice place to visit on your motorcycle.

With Sturgis right around the corner, plans are being made. As always, I leave the “Last Minute” clause open in case I need to pull the plug. Things can change right up until the night before I leave and you have to be mentally prepared to throw in the towel and admit you’re not going. Fortunately for me, I haven’t had to exercise this clause but that’s not to say I haven’t stood there at the 11th hour (or was it 11 o’clock at night?) the night before staring at the bike loaded down patiently waiting to hit the road thinking I would have to cancel the trip. Bummer.

As it stands now, Sturgis looks like it’s a go. I need a vacation for sure, but I also need to put some miles under me and clean out some cobwebs in my head. What better way than to see some new countryside through these tired old eyes of mine?

The Statistics of Fun


Who would have thought. Who would have thought that an inanimate object could be such an emotional thing? Certain bikers get caught up on fuel economy, horsepower, quarter-mile times and the like but what about the statistics of fun? Sure, horsepower can be good fun. Good gas mileage can be a kick in the pants when you know deep down you are “sticking it to the man” at the pump. But just for a moment, stop and think about the fun you have in between gas stops and those few times when you aren’t twisting the throttle to its stops. Feel that? That, simply put, is fun. You can’t really measure it on a pie graph, and you sure can’t measure it by sitting on the couch. It mostly happens when you can feel the wind in your face and the road beneath your tires. Sometimes it happens when you walk out to the garage and just – stare at your ride.

We often forget “fun” when talking about our bikes. We talk about customization, where we’ve been, how much we have invested in our bikes but rarely say “and I have a lot of fun riding it.” Maybe it’s implied, I don’t know, but you would think it would come up in conversation. I’ve seen motorcycles that just scream for someone to rip it down the quarter-mile. I’ve seen custom bikes that raise the question if it can be ridden at all. I’ve seen a smoky burnout in a cheering crowd that looked like a lot of fun (not on my bike please) but was it any fun riding it there? I guess after a few beers who cares, right?

Could it possible that saying we are having fun riding our motorcycle takes something away from the image we are trying to put forth? I bet those “nice” people on Honda’s are having fun, (you know – the ones you used to meet?) but what about the rest of us. I’ve had a few rides where it wasn’t a lot of fun during the ride do to the weather or something like that, but when I look back on that ride I don’t have much to complain about. And overall I think we all ride for the fun of it –  at least I do. Where are the patches sewn on leather jackets proclaiming “If You Can Read This – I’m Having Fun” or “Loud Pipes – Having Fun.” If you’ve seen one, let me know.

It appears that the culture of riding is based around the lifestyle and attitude of it all. We ride to have fun for sure and I know it goes beyond saying it out-loud, but to measure it like torque, horsepower or gas-mileage isn’t as easy as hooking your bike to a machine. I think, and this is just me, that it all boils down to perception. Fun isn’t built into our bikes, it’s built into us. We determine the fun we’re going to have in anything we do, and its up to me to decide if what I’m riding or where I’m riding to, is fun or not. And it’s revealed in what my perception of fun is compared to yours. It’s no different from our jobs, chores, or life in general, we can either make it enjoyable or make it suck. You decide. Can you measure suck on a pie graph?



Five-Pound Bag


There is never enough time in the day. Well of course not, because if there were we would be “all caught up” and that just can’t happen. We need to always be behind and scrambling to fit all that’s on our list of things to do into a five-pound sack. That is to say our list weighs ten pounds, or something like that. It’s crazy how we feel the pressure to do it all to make time for…what? What are we trying to make time for? We have a good idea of what we want out of life, but are we going about it the right way? We spend so much time working and worrying about the small stuff that our lives are happening right before us. Everyone starts each day with an equal amount of time so how do they get it all done when I can’t even fight my way out of this so-called five-pound bag?

I know what you’re thinking – time management, right? What I really need here is to manage finding a little time to sit in the shade. When I say “sit in the shade” I really mean I need to spend more time working on a balance in my life. Of course there is still a list of to-do’s to get done, but once in a while I need to sit and just take it all in. You know the feeling, the sound of “outside” and nothing else. In the sun or in the shade, just taking it in and realizing that I am alive and there are things that I worry about that probably don’t deserve the energy.

There are those people who are very good at taking it easy and there are those people who make it look like they are taking it easy but still manage to fill their five-pound bag. I envy those folks for they are the ones that have truly found that balance I seek to find for myself. But as we all know, there is always something to do or get done no matter how hard we work at it. So when is that moment when you sit down and take it all in?

What we don’t realize is we really are making time to take it all in – a little bit every day in those little things that we find enjoyable. Maybe you find gardening or cutting the grass enjoyable. Maybe its walking the dog or painting. Or in my case, my daily commute – riding my motorcycle to work and back every day. It’s that time when our hands are busy and our mind is clear or we are putting ourselves in a state of meditation to find that peace of mind to relax. That few moments when we are actually doing something all the while taking a moment to breathe and realize that yes, we are alive.

So when you need that mental vacation from time to time and you just want to sit and listen to the sounds of “outside”, remember that as you go through the day you are doing just that. It may not seem like it because we are focused on the task at hand. But with a little effort, stop and look around and you’ll be surprised at what you see. Your life is happening right before your eyes…take it all in and see how fast your five-pound bag fills up.

The Reason I Ride

sturgis100_4434To look back over the forty years I’ve been riding motorcycles is easy. I like thinking about all the experiences I’ve had and even looking at the photographs I’ve got stored away in an old envelope on the shelf. Notice I said “shelf” not “memory stick” or “hard drive”. That’s back in the day when someone had to take your picture and then a conscious effort was needed to get the film developed all the while hoping at least one of the pictures wouldn’t be blurry. If nothing else the old photos prove that at some point in my life I have been in shape and I have had a full head of hair.

So as I look back I often wonder why the motorcycle impacted my life instead of football or any other type of sports or recreation. Simple explanations for gravity or inertia I can give, but an explanation of why I ride might be difficult. But I ride when those friends of mine don’t. They’ll watch football or basketball and I’ll watch Supercross or Moto GP racing. The funny thing is the majority of my friends don’t ride motorcycles. I know what you’re thinking. A guy like Jeff must be surrounded by the latest and greatest machinery out there. He must ride a million miles a year and his house is filled with trophies of championships and with friends who ride and do nothing but talk about two-wheeled adventures. The reality is I do ride a lot and I rarely hang out with my motorcycle friends. My close friends all watch the games on TV and come Monday I’m at a loss for what to say when everyone is talking about the weekend in sports.

Going through my formative years at school in White City, I just didn’t play much football or basketball. In a community where team sports are the talk of the town, I was riding my motorcycle out to the trails to practice, eventually racing motocross until I broke my leg in 1987. Was I any good? From the side of the track I probably appeared to be somewhat awkward and squidish. From inside my helmet looking out I was awesome! Fast and smooth and wheeling away from the pack! But average is more like it, although I finished my best year ranked third in the state.

I think the real reason I ride runs a little deeper than just individual sports versus team sports. I missed my chance to play team sports and if I could do it over I would have played more in school. This is something I’ve come to realize as I have gotten older. Again, from the sidelines at the game I’m sure I would have appeared awkward and squidish, but I would have been there all the same. I wouldn’t necessarily change things as they turned out, but it would have been a life experience to add to the many I already have. So back to the reason… 

Just like those folks that like football or NASCAR, I like motorcycles. It really doesn’t need to be explained at all. We are individuals that have our likes and dislikes and I like the two-wheeled kind. I think most people associate me with motorcycles by now and that’s no surprise. They sure don’t mistake me for a guy in shape with a full head of hair!

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