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Hell for Leather

Reaching the Fountain of Youth

Last week, JD Power identified reaching customers in a new, younger demographic as one of the key challenges currently facing the motorcycle industry. As high-margin, high-capacity bikes like the BMW R1200GS became the major focus of the industry in the run up to 2008’s financial market collapse, the basic-but-appealing, utilitarian-but-exciting motorcycles that had brought about the initial success of many manufacturers were forgotten. Now that we suddenly need to rediscover them, motorcycles like that aren’t coming from the traditional players, they’re coming from relatively unknown companies using Far East manufacturing to deliver niche products at an affordable price.

 

JD Power reports that the average age of a motorcycle buyer in the US has increased to 49 years old, 12 years older than the median age of the US population. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, the western motorcycle industry chose to focus exclusively on high-disposable-income, older riders over the last several decades. Now, with those same riders aging out of riding over the next decade or, worse, unable to afford new motorcycles in the short term, we suddenly find ourselves needing to return to that young buyer. The thing is, those younger buyers have different needs and different tastes than the product mix currently on offer caters to. Enter ATK and Cleveland CycleWerks.

 

Both companies intend to combine western product ideals — high quality and high style — with the low cost manufacturing that’s available in countries like Korea and China. But, they’re pursuing that similar idea in very different ways.

 

Utah-based ATK sees its major advantage as being access to a large proportion of Harley’s dealer network, something it plans to exploit with a range of entry-level motorcycles assembled in America from components made by S&T motors (formerly Hyosung) in Korea.

 

Cleveland CycleWerks’s business model couldn’t be more different. Its 30-year-old leader is designing bikes specifically to cater to the tastes of his peers, then relying on an existing network of alternative-brand dealers to reach the young customers he hopes are ready and waiting for an appealing, small-capacity product. CCW’s model looks like a mirror of Honda 30 or 40 years ago. Their 250-500cc products are a response to the excess of Boomer-oriented 1,200cc v-twins and 1,600cc, six-cylinder tourers. UJM could become UCM as CCW designs, then imports bikes that are appealing on their own, yet ripe for customization. CCW’s second product, the 250cc, sort-of-cafe-racer-style Misfit looks and feels like a quality western product, just one that, at $3,195, retails for $800 less than the CBR250R Honda is pinning its youth appeal push on. Ironically, it’s the CCW, not the Honda, which most feels like a product of our time, meeting American youth consumer expectation far more successfully than the fully-faired CBR.

 

ATK suffers more from the burden of the negative image unsuccessful attempts to introduce Far East products to the American market have created. Currently offering re-badged bikes from Hyosung’s cut-price range, it’s hoping that a presence in major Harley dealers will be enough to move bikes in the short term. Still, ATK’s CEO, industry veteran Frank White, claims it’s the dealers’ desperate need for entry level products that’s motivated ATK’s push to sell them products. Where Harley is investing $60 million in a three year project to develop a new, entry-level learner bike intended to appeal to its Riders Edge program, new riders and women, the re-badged Hyosungs are giving dealers an immediate product to sell to those to whom 883cc or $8,000 is simply too much. Of course, the re-badged Hyosung Aquila is both more powerful and lighter than that Sportster 883, but there’s also an even lighter 250cc version that retails for just $4,000. The thinking is, that someone buying a 250cc Korean cruiser now, might come back to buy a Harley in the near future. Starting someone off in motorcycling creates new customers, even if the payback to the The Motor Company won’t come immediately.

 

While ATK’s plan to build American-style bikes from Korean components won’t bear fruit until 2012, CCW is importing and selling bikes right now. In fact, it plans to bring no less than six models to the American market next year (it also sells in Europe, Africa and Asia), of which it hopes to sell around 3,000 bikes a year, for each model. CCW’s business is unique; the company only employs its designer and executives in the Cleveland, plus a handful of quality control people at its Chinese factories. Distribution is handled by New Jersey’s PIT Motors Ltd, a company that services over 100 dealers nationwide with Asian products. This leads to very low overheads and therefore unprecedentedly low prices.

 

But, unlike Kymco, QLink or Hyosung which have tried and, largely, failed to penetrate the American market with low-cost Chinese products, CCW hopes to become a significant player. Even at two-thirds its projected sales volume, CCW will likely eclipse BMW in overall sales in the North American market next year. The way they hope to do so isn’t just with products that tick the cheap and reliable boxes, but with a quality product that appeals to western sensibilities.

 

“We’ve investing in quality where other people only invest in making the cost as cheap as possible,” says Cleveland’s Scott Colosimo, the 30-year-old designer behind the company. “The consumer is the one pushing for cheaper, cheaper, cheaper. We push for better quality. Good companies only want to work with other good companies. If we find, say, a gas tank manufacturer that we’re happy with, we say, ‘Hey, do you have any other factories that you work with?’ And we go visit that factory. Are they ISO certified? What quality controls do they have in place? Can we see some samples? Can we talk to their customers? And we have our own quality control engineers over there monitoring everything too.”

 

It’s designing products to and for American tastes rather than hoping products intended for the Far East might find some fans here that will be the key to CCW’s success. The ability to leverage large-scale Chinese manufacturing in order to adapt quickly to trends will also help. Next year, Cleveland will have a bobber, cafe racer, supermoto, as well as a 500cc v-twin cafe racer and muscle bike at a time when a manufacturer like Honda is still churning out large-capacity adventure tourers and cruisers. CCW can afford to follow trends where Honda has to make major marketing pushes to sell bikes competing in the same classes as everyone else.

 

“What we’ve found is that people in the US want to ride,” continues Scott. “It’s a purchase that people are willing to make some sacrifice for, but many can’t quite make the stretch to an $8,000 price tag. Dealers are left having to stock used bikes, there’s a huge hole in the market for this.”

Someone buying a $3,195 CCW today could become a lifelong rider and purchaser of new motorcycles tomorrow. Where there’s someone buying a CCW at 21 years old, there might be a someone buying a CBR five years later. Of course, they won’t be buying into an established brand, they’ll be buying into a new one. One that values them as a customer and caters specifically to them. With brand equity like that, will the next step be a Big Four product or will it be another CCW? You can bet Scott’s penning that next step up the ladder as we speak.

“That’s kind of our key, taking this person that wishes they could afford a motorcycle and showing them that they can,” concludes Scott. “You can afford a cool bike that makes you feel good, it doesn’t have to be a dream.”

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A guide To Exploiting New Media

While we all know that the Internet is merely an unfortunate trend that will eventually pass, it's become disappointingly obvious that publications distributed through it now wield significant influence even outside the young demographic we, as an industry, have otherwise successfully disenfranchised. While we wouldn't dare argue that the specialty print press aren't the only media outlets deserving  your full attention, the ease with which new media outlets, in particular "blogs," can be manipulated makes targeting them, while distasteful, a potentially successful means to disseminate your brand message. Let's explore the various types of "bloggers" in an effort to formulate a series of best practices for manipulating their message.

The unemployed moto journalist

 

Who they are

Ingratiated into a life of free motorcycles and economy-class jet setting, this blogger saw the minor trade magazine he worked for going out of business as only a minor bump along the rode to never living a lifestyle within his means. Now equipped with free publishing software and a site named after himself, the unemployed moto journalist is busy espousing conventional wisdom and toeing the party line, all in an effort to keep the freebies flowing.

 

What value they represent

Invariably equipped with virtually no readers, the unemployed moto journalist’s willingness to unquestioningly regurgitate corporate messages nevertheless represents a potential feather in the cap of mid-level management. Continuing to invite them to product launches and providing them with motorcycle loans guarantees the ability to include in your reports glowing write ups from names the executives will recognize and enables you to use them as an example when asked what your new media action plan is.

 

Recommended course of action

 

They’re already on the list, keeping them there represents little risk and a guaranteed, if small, reward. Include on launches and provide motorcycle loans, but exert control by reminding them they serve at your pleasure.

The enthusiastic child

 

Who they are

The democratization of publishing caused by this Internet fad is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the rise of the enthusiastic child blogger. Not necessarily defined by their  frequently young age, but rather their immature approach to publishing, the enthusiastic child honestly believes that they have a future in motorcycle publishing, but will move onto something more immediately profitable the second their mother begins to hint that she might start charging them rent for that basement room.

 

What value they represent

Through the competent manipulation of basic Internet tools like search engine optimization that comes naturally to their generation, the enthusiastic child can boast of a larger audience than the unemployed moto journalist, but what they won’t tell you is that once most readers realize they’ve accidentally entered the domain of an immature mind, they flee, never to return. Having said that, their enthusiasm can easily be manipulated to flatter them into thinking that you share their belief in a bright future. An occasional response to one of their frequent and annoying emails won’t just get your own name into “print” but your unfiltered and unquestioned agenda too.

 

Recommended course of action

Ignore as irrelevant until such a time as a minor controversy or turn of events requires a manipulated message. At such a time, a brief email will be received so overwhelmingly positively that it will surely be published in its entirety, if only as a way for the enthusiastic child to demonstrate their importance to the world.

The hobbyist

 

Who they are

An honest motorcycle enthusiast who’s seen their career evolve to the point where they have a modicum of free time just as the alienation by their family has reached its peak. Possessing both the professional skills to produce interesting content and the money to indulge their love of bikes, blogging has allowed them to find a way to impress their own particular vision of motorcycles on the rest of the world.

 

What value they represent

Frequently obsessed with the motorcycles they lusted after in their youth, but were unable to purchase until now, the hobbyist is largely uninterested in the modern motorcycle industry. This is a shame because their publications often boast respectably large readerships. Rather than acknowledge the disconnect that’s suggested between the industry and potential customers by these publications, it’s probably best simply to enjoy their content without thinking too deeply about what it represents.

 

Recommended course of action

Strike up a friendly relationship with the hobbyist thanks to your mutual interest in motorcycling’s past and use it to remember why you got involved in this industry in the first place.

The mainstream media outlet

 

Who they are

Publications that possess millions of readers by virtue of writing about a topic other than motorcycles will, occasionally, feature motorcycle content on the infrequent occasions that it’s relevant to the outside world. Unfortunately, the effeminate, New York-based editorial staffs of these publications know about as much about bikes as they do about the part of their country that exists between the Hudson and Los Angeles.

 

What value they represent

Sure, they reach millions of readers and even the young people and women we keep getting told we need to find a way to include in motorcycling, but whenever they do write about bikes, they tend to focus on off-message aspects like speed or danger. Would you believe that mainstream publications have even been known to give more editorial space to alternative brands and motorcycles from outside the industry than they do the big four?

 

Recommended course of action

Dismiss as irrelevant.

The apex predator

 

Who they are

In another world, at another time, these are the people who would have quickly risen to positions of authority at successful print publications. Primarily motivated by a journalist’s calling to disseminate factual information and inform the masses, the apex predator seems immune to traditional propaganda. Fortunately, those two things — the focus on actual journalism and their ill-advised unwillingness to bend to corporate will — have alienated them from today’s print media environment and banished them to the wastelands of the the Internet.

 

What value they represent

Despite successfully reaching large audiences in a new demographic for motorcycles by trailblazing a new style of editorial content and through tireless hard work, the value these “journalists” represent to the industry is miniscule due to their refusal to toe the corporate line. By refusing to play by established rules, they render themselves irrelevant to our companies. Having said that, there is a certain negative value that has to be acknowledged; through foiling attempts to keep stories exclusive to our inner circle of friendly publications and an annoying predilection to publish off-message content, they often spoil our attempts to fully manage messages.

 

Recommended course of action

Avoid at all costs; hopefully industry-wide ignoring will make them go away. If contact is necessitated, attempt to undermine, but be wary, apex predators can often see through our clever ruses.

 

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The Untold Truth

Hell For Leather is the featured editorial of MMW.  Founded by Wes Siler and Grant Ray only a few years ago, it has quickly grown to be one of the premiere sources for editorialized motorcycle news in the world.  As an online magazine in the motorcycle industry, it has no equal, delivering a daily dose of crisp writing, exceptional visuals and a stand alone attitude to reporting that is altogether rare in journalism.  MMW will feature a new, original Hell For Leather op-ed every month.  In thier own words, here is the Hell For Leather mission.

You’ve probably figured out by now that HFL isn’t an S&M fetish site, but that’s usually people’s first reaction when we tell them our publication is called Hell For Leather. No one seems to know exactly where the term came from. Some claim Rudyard Kipling coined it, some think it was cowboy speak for an unruly steer. To us it represents an approach to life, one where we push ahead through society’s mundane conventions and look ahead to where we want to be, not where we were. It means going fast; it means breaking rules; it means doing things people tell us we can’t. It means riding motorcycles.

Hell For Leather was founded for a singular purpose: to give you the motorcycle magazine you deserve. You deserve something more than formulaic bike reviews. You deserve something more than conventional wisdom. You deserve something more than marketing speak rehashed as editorial content. Hell For Leather is committed to bringing you exciting, original, creative stories about motorcycles.

Why do we call ourselves a magazine? That word describes any periodical that publishes a variety of content about a specific topic. Sure, it’s more commonly used for print, but we publish feature stories, news, adventures, interviews and even original videos and we do it daily with a lead time of minutes instead of months. Instead of simply consuming, you get to be a part of it too; conversations are content.

So that’s who we are. A publication with a funny name that’s made by people who like bikes for people who like bikes.

Wes Siler & Grant Ray

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