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Archive for the ‘Brand Loyalty’ Category

It’s real, and it’s spectacular. Fastest I’ve ever clicked “buy.”

Wait! Not so fast. What are you talking about Mac?

Today was historic. The original film starts out greeting thrillseekers, music lovers and conversationalists all across the frozen plains.

You had me at; “You’re here by the grace of your lineage.

But, I’ve wandered off the main trail.

Our “movie hero,” Jochen Zeitz, chairman, president and CEO Harley-Davidson, was an actor riding — yes, RIDING — an actual motorcycle.  That in of itself might be a first?!  There he was in the scenic landscape of Kenya, Africa no less.  Traveling to the vast wildlife preserves to lasso the FIRST twin Adventure Motorcycle and bring it back to Made in America!

Nothing to see here Buell owners.

The emotional exhaustion of this past year must have gripped Mr. Zeitz’ soul, as he peered out onto the Segera Retreat, where a herd of zebra graze, swishing their tails in unison to keep the flies away.  Where a long giraffe at the outer edges of the garden keeps him company as he ploughs through a lengthy to-do list waiting for the Milwaukee employees to wake up.

Today Mr. Zeitz must be just thrilled of simply being alive and to share his wisdom with the motorcycle adventure world.

At the film preview, Journalists cheered… remotely of course.  There were tears and applause, then more tears as the press fell apart during the historical Harley-Davidson Pan America launch today.  Harley-Davidson told a syrupy sympathetic story with dramatic musical overdubs on how the motor company always made off-road bikes. The film narrator described that this isn’t Harley’s first dirt rodeo. You might recall, that back in the 1960s and 70s, Harley offered a variety of small dual-sports, and even briefly got into the motocross game. Harley filled the gap in their lineup by purchasing the Italian motorcycle manufacturer Aermacchi. Not too long after, Harley gave up on the idea of small dirt bikes and sold Aermacchi, which eventually became the company we know today as Cagiva.

It’s fairly evident that the motorcycle press has become nothing but “exhausting love letters to consumerism.” I’ll save my cynicism as a more legitimate response to a product launch once I have a chance to fully review the stats vs. just post another emotional reaction.

We all know that Harley-Davidson is trying to break into the popular adventure motorcycle scene with the 2021 Pan America 1250 and Pan America 1250 Special. The motorcycle and dealer network will compete with some of Europe’s top players, including the BMW GS 1250, KTM 1290 Adventure, and the Ducati Multistrada V4. Harley-Davidson pricing begins at $17,319 for the base model and $19,999 for the Special. The models will arrive at Harley-Davidson dealerships in spring 2021.

For me, it was an immense privilege both physically and spiritually to witness the Pan America launch via film/video. #sarcasmalert

Image courtesy of YouTube: Harley-Davidson Original Film (25:45 minutes)

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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TAKEAWAY: The Q4 2020 Harley-Davidson retail motorcycle sales in the U.S. — the company’s biggest market — fell for the 16th straight quarter!

FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE DETAILS: Yesterday, I posted that Harley-Davidson unveiled “The Hardwire” — a new 5-year strategic plan.  My snarky responses were largely based on what I viewed as the motor company ‘selling the news’ with a lack of granular detail or disclosure around a growth path forward. It was a brutal Q4’20 and full-year financial result. Followed by executive management’s murky 2021 outlook.  The street wasn’t happy and the result was a 17% drop in share price followed by another 2% today.

My blog post today will be on the fourth-quarter and full-year 2020 financial results with less commentary.

The Hardwire Highlights 

  • The Hardwire includes investing in the Touring and heavyweight Cruiser segment, expanding into untapped segments of Adventure Touring and creating a new division dedicated to electric motorcycles.
  • The motor company views Inclusive Stakeholder Management in the context of people, planet and profit, as all three are now embedded in the past and future success of the company.
  • The motorcycle maker plans to give stock grants to its employees, inspired by a program devised by KKR & Co Inc. executive Pete Stavros.

Q4 2020 Highlights

  • Reported fourth-quarter adjusted loss of 44 cents per share. A big miss and notable executive mismanagement of expectations as the street consensus estimate was for a profit at 24 cents.
  • The revenue decreased by 32% at $725 million compared to previous year.
  • The company suffered a net loss of $96 million compared to the previous year’s profit of $13 million.
  • The loss per share was 0.63 and the adjusted loss per share was $0.44.
  • Total revenues from the Motorcycle and Related products segment, which constitute the bulk of the firm’s overall revenues, plunged 39% year over year to $531 million in the reported quarter.
  • For Q4’20, Harley-Davidson retailed 33,925 motorcycle units globally, down 14.1% year over year. The company’s retail motorcycle units sold in the U.S. slid 14.5% from the year-ago quarter to 17,274. Sales in the Middle East and Africa, Asia Pacific, Canada and Latin America declined 2.2%, 9.6%, 30.2% and 50.9%, respectively, from the year-ago period.
  • Revenues for Parts & Accessories (P&A) were up 13.3% from the prior year to $146.4 million. However, revenues for General Merchandise (GM) — including Motor Clothes apparel and accessories — dropped 13% from the prior-year quarter to $49.7 million.
  • The selling, general and administrative expenses (SG&A) increased to $276.4 million from the $266.4 million compared to fourth-quarter 2019.

Full-Year 2020 Highlights

  • Consolidated revenues for 2020 came in at $4,054 million, declining 24% from the prior year’s $5,362 million. Moreover, the company’s adjusted earnings per share for the year came in at 77 cents, tanking 77% from the $3.36 per share reported in 2019.
  • The motor company streamlined the product portfolio, reducing the planned number of models by almost 30%.
  • Paid dividends of $0.44 per share for the full year
  • Re-set motorcycle model year launch timing to align with beginning of the year seasonality
  • Exited 39 markets to focus on the approximately 50 highest-potential markets
  • Reduced total dealer network by approximately 160 net global dealers in 2020

Jochen Zeitz, chairman, president and CEO, Harley-Davidson summarized the financial call: “The entire Harley-Davidson team put forth tremendous effort in 2020 and we now have the right organization, structure and strategy in place to make step changes in our performance and enhance our position as the most desirable motorcycle brand in the world.”

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Harley-Davidson.  The author does not own or does the author plan to purchase and/or sell any $HOG stock.

Photo courtesy Harley-Davidson.

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Drum roll please…with a rim shot!

Harley-Davidson released the secret recipe for “The Hardwire” — a new 5-year strategic plan rolled out oddly on Groundhog Day.  You can read the press release HERE.

Groundhog Day, the comedy film starring Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell and Chris Elliott portrays a cynical TV weatherman covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, who becomes trapped in a time loop forcing him to relive February 2 repeatedly.

I reviewed the Harley-Davidson press release and like the film, the motor company seems to be in a time loop spewing marketing or business verbiage that doesn’t mean anything. The release reads like quotes from the books “Crossing the Chasm“/”Blue Ocean“/”Good To Great” / “Tipping Point” / “Outliers.”  I’ve never read all of these books, but I sound MBA literate if I quote them. And, besides, most biker enthusiasts probably never read them either to call me out on it.

Below are the main topics of Chairman, President and CEO Jochen Zeitz’s, The Hardwire = with my snarky management euphemisms added for clarity:

The Hardwire Strategy

Profit Focus: Don’t leave money on the table = Be as greedy with them as possible.
Selective Expansion and Redefinition: We’re all about value-add = Unlike our competitors who seek to add no value.
Lead in Electric: It’s best-of-breed = We hired a market research firm to say that.
Growth Beyond Bikes: This is the next big thing/new thing = Some of our 20-somethings have told me this is really cool.
Customer Experience: We’re customer-focused/proactive/results-oriented = That can’t be bad, right?  This is motherhood and apple pie stuff.
Inclusive Stakeholder Management: We need to monetize/strategize/analyze/incentivize = When in doubt, stick “-ize” on the end of a word and it will sound action-oriented.
People: I know you’ve been burning the candle on both ends = Get ready to do some more.
Planet: It’s basic New Green Deal blocking and tackling = How could you screw this up? I also played high school football and those were the best days of my life.
Profit: We want this to move up and to the right = I failed high school algebra but someone said this means we’ll be making a lot of money if this happens.
Financial Targets: It’s about synergies/1 + 1 = 3 = I don’t get the math either, but it sounds like more and more is better, right?

Metaphors or marketing euphemisms are always interesting to me.  Eu·phe·mism — a word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing. For example, a famous feature of the World Fair in New York in 1964-65 was something called the Dynamic Maturity Pavilion — basically a garden with benches where those of mature years could rest.

Maturity is a positive concept; it implies that a person is fully developed in body or mind. And as a “seasoned” motorcyclist I’ll need to wrap my head around reliving The Hardwire.  We’ve seen this film before. I’ll need to sharpen my pencil and circle back to fully understand the paradigm shift.

In the meantime, I know we’re all on the same team here, rowing in the same direction, and it’s not about me, it’s about us.

Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures and Harley-Davidson.

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Santa Wish List

Santa wasn’t good to the motorcycle industry in 2020.  It was the sort of year at Harley-Davidson where every week, you’d say “what just happened?” Soft sales and even negative growth along with company shutdowns then longer term layoffs followed by strategic plan “walk-backs” and then the high profile dumping of a Tennessee motorcycle dealer over racist Black Lives Matter posts followed by an ever discriminating consumer to boot.

Speaking of feet, did you hear that having footwear industry expertise is the new turnaround skill set for executives at the motor company?

As the motor company executives sit virtually in the Zoom conference room and wonder what happened to the year, I can’t help but believe there are some major things on their Santa wish lists.

So, I’ve followed the science (parody alert!) and highlighted below what I think a few of the top executives want for Christmas:

JOCHEN ZEITZ, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Harley-Davidson: Santa, I “charged” up and shorted out ex-CEO Matt Levatich on that EV motorcycle, but I got the head honcho job with the industry’s most iconic motorcycle manufacturer.  Did you know they have a cult-like following similar to my favorite thing — a Scottish Bailey guitar?  And to think that I’ve never even been photographed riding a motorcycle. I can’t think of anything more to ask for. Oh wait – listen up Santa, please help that Pan American be our rock star and displace BMW R 1250 GS Adventure bike sales. Santa, I need your help to move the company from The Rewire, to The Hardwire and now with marijuana being legal in Madison, my new strategic plan will be called The Higher Wire. Santa, I’ve never been to the White House for dinner and I wrote a book about my transcendental awakening with a Benedictine monk.  It’s my turn!  Please let the spinner land on my name. Lastly, can you help people forget about that botched “Gone Girl” firing of Michelle Kumbier and the $660K departure gift?

JULIE ANDING, Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer: Santa baby, it’s cold outside. It’s not a Christmas party. It’s a non-denominational Zoom holiday mixer. More inclusive. With my team of over 200 HR professionals (“I say H, and you say R”) streaming video around the world, I posted a fun memo about the decisions made at the company Zoom holiday party will have consequences that will haunt them for the rest of their professional lives. I’ve got doughnuts. I’ve got jelly and sprinkles, but not cronuts because they’re a bastard pastry.

AMY GIUFFRE, Vice President and Chief Communications Officer: Santa, please let 2021 be “If the dream is big enough, the facts don’t matter” — a.k.a. the Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf school of bubbling optimism to distract the media and bloggers with superfluous BS so they ignore our fundamental problems. As the motor company leader of the world’s foremost authority on brand marketing please let my cutting edge hoo-ha marketers develop a comm’s strategy that will last longer than Aquaman in theaters!

JON BEKEFY, General Manager Brand Marketing: What the font?  Please Santa, I’m seeking stoke so, let the famously irreverent Enthusiast magazine right a wrong, while I write a song on the largest number of variable text sizes and drawing types ever used in a print magazine. We commissioned a student that designed a flyer for the H.S. prom to perform the magazine eye test. I’m a huge fan of Gliko Modern and Gliko Modern Condensed with Body copy set in Freight Text.  Oooh, so many fonts and so little time. I’m rather preoccupied with condensing the regular widths of every page and reducing The Enthusiast page count to a total of three on the next spread.  Is Santa seeking stoke?

BILL DAVIDSON, Vice President of the Harley-Davidson Museum: Hey Santa, I’m still working here and I bleed black and orange. Did you know I’m the son of William G. “Willie G.” Davidson? Just because the pandemic has closed the museum, I remain busy creating ways to bring light and meaningful impact to motorcycle enthusiasts.  In fact, I sketched a new color book that has cryptic clues, puzzles to solve, and you can uncover a mystery through an interactive story adventure in the museum gallery.  We’re doing this in collaboration with The Pabst Mansion and the Pabst Brewing Company. Pass me a cold one!

GINA GOETTER, Chief Financial Officer: Santa it’s not my fault.  The prepared foods at Tyson Foods taught me a lot. Please let me milk this “new in my job” for just a while longer.  What do they expect?  Miracles on Juneau Avenue!  Doesn’t it matter that I’ve been here less time than ZEITZ?   I do have a motorcycle endorsement.  And, my calculator is newer than Jonathan’s!

JAGDISH “J.A.G.” KRISHNAN, Chief Digital Officer: Santa, it’s all hands on deck. Open. Click. Buy. At Bose, I helped close 119 retail stores after digitization and all I want for Christmas is to be that invincible-gungho digital hero and repeat the success for Harley customers. I’m calling it The Wired Buyer plan. It’s no longer about taking care of every person who walks through our doors – whether that’s helping with a problem, giving expert advice, or just letting someone take a break and listen to a great rumble.  We’re going all in online and will digitize the entire customer experience. Now where are those IBM server rooms on Juneau Avenue.

JONATHAN ROOT, Senior Vice President, Harley-Davidson Financial Services: Santa, I’ve been busy creating forecasting models, assessing risk in investments and ensuring all accounting activities comply with regulations, but I need a new platinum edition HP 12C calculator.  The minus button on my current Texas Instruments model quit working.

PAUL J. KRAUSE, Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and Chief Compliance Officer: Santa, I’ll make this short and sweet.  Please tell us who is behind that NWHOG.com blog?!  We have an important legal document gift we wish to serve send over to the Northwest Harley Blog editor. By the way Santa, trespassing involves entering a chimney without consent, but by wishing for presents and sending letters we’re good to go on the legal front!

LUKE MANSFIELD, Vice President Motorcycle Management: I’m dreaming electric Santa. Think Serial Number 1! It’s a simple process that leads to a complex outcome, but I think I can optimize your gift delivery experience so you’ll be home for Christmas.  Sure you have the reindeer and elf idiosyncrasies, but consumer tastes are changing fast and they want those gifts immediately after they Open. Click. Buy.  Santa you need to adapt & disrupt.  By the way, we’re developing a new delicious lemon flavored drink for our motorcycle enthusiasts.  It’s called ‘Harley Harley‘ and will be a standalone new brand in the U.S.

BRYAN NIKETH, Senior Vice President, Product Development and Operations: Please make Indian Motorcycles go away like “Gone Girl” Michelle Kumbier.  We are tired of being embarrassed in our own backyard when it comes to American cruisers and we don’t want that company bragging about their superior performance anymore.  Santa, save the gifts for the laid off 70 employees in India because I’m flying over when the pandemic ends to discuss Harley’s continuing restructuring of the region. It’s the largest motorcycle market and the exit was hastily announced. Lastly Santa, can you find that blogger at the 105th Anniversary trying to take a photo during our plant tour. We ran his butt right out the building before he was able to take pictures of the lunch room, but the Six Sigma manufacturing team learned later we’re missing a crankshaft bolt.

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to the time when I can throw away my mask. Visiting all my family and sitting around the table sharing stories, eating good food and laughing together again.  And of course, getting on the motorcycle and riding across the U.S. at pandemic-free events!

Thank you for your readership during this past year. Merry Christmas, happy holidays and best wishes to you and yours in 2021.

Photo courtesy of the author.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Good afternoon.

Election Day is a week away. There’s new evidence of water on the moon. Amy Coney Barrett is a Supreme Court justice, the fire hose of information continues to overwhelm even the most devout COVID-19 science junkies and Harley-Davidson shares soared 27% to $36.82 earlier in the day after reporting third-quarter net income of $120.2 million and post its best Q3 result since 2015.

A striking result after Harley-Davidson put a German environmentalist in charge and recorded a worldwide sales decline of 8%, which is the 15th consecutive quarterly decline.

Wall Street is reviving optimism about Harley’s future at a time when motorcycle sales are in decline. Talk about exaggerating your perspective.

Jochen Zeitz’s (CEO) “ReWire” (yes, a play on the LiveWire electric motorcycle) strategy cut 30% of the models in the lineup, exited 39 markets, eliminated 10% of its workforce including product teams developing new motorcycle models — were executed to manage down motorcycle volume and reduce its global presence due to low sales.  

The actions helped to stop discounting and drive dealership prices higher to MSRP in Q3.  It’s also a tacit acknowledgement that the motor company’s smaller scope and scale is the only way forward after multiple abandoned growth plans and over a decade long quest to appeal and reach new types of riders.

Abandoning affordable, youth-oriented motorcycles is a staggering reversal given Mr. Zeitz’s experience at Puma in connecting with the youth culture and claiming ownership of that generation in Europe. Remember “Puma chic” streetwear fashion?

Harley-Davidson Inc. is back!  Back, to making big, expensive motorcycles for its most devoted customers.

UPDATE: October 27 at 5:13PM PacificFull Disclosure: I don’t currently own or have plans to purchase HOG stock.

Photos courtesy of Bloomberg and Harley-Davidson

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Sturgis City Council Release

The Sturgis City Council voted 8-1 last night to host the rally and announced today that the 80th Annual City of Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will move forward.

However, there will be significant changes designed to reduce the large crowd gatherings in the downtown core with the intent to “safeguard the community and residents.”

That there is a true definition of dichotomy.

The City Council decision, given most all other large outdoor events and indoor concerts around the U.S. have been canceled or rescheduled, is an interesting one. The annual rally will generate millions in revenues for the host city, but no mention of that trivia in the press release.

Buffalo Chip Email Blast

According to Sturgis Rally stats, in 2019 there were 490,000 rally visitors — at least 70 times the estimated 2019 population of Sturgis (6,500), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  In other words, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attendees in 2019 were the equivalent to half of the state of South Dakota’s estimated 2019 population of 884,659.

Read the full City Council release HERE.

A few items known as of today that will be implemented at the event:

  • Attendees will be asked to practice social distancing and follow CDC guidelines.
  • Enhanced safety/sanitization protocols will be carried out in the downtown area.
  • City sponsored events including opening ceremonies, parades, B1 Flyover, and live music at Harley-Davidson Rally Point are cancelled.
  • Photo towers will NOT be installed.
  • Temporary vendors will be required to abide by state and federal protocols and guidelines related to COVID-19.

I’m not trying to “COVID Shame” anyone thinking about or planning to attend the motorcycle rally.  But, remember a long, long time ago when the freedom of riding across the U.S. and attending a rally didn’t bring this type of risk?

Images courtesy of City Council and Buffalo Chip.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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According to an article by @bob_tita in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ – Paywall), Harley-Davidson plans to reopen its factories this week at lower production rates and stated it will be sending dealers an attenuated range of new motorcycles — meaning, time for a COVID-19 course correction.

You may recall that Harley’s U.S. assembly plants and most of its dealers closed in March as part of a nationwide effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.  Currently, as many of the company’s 698 U.S. dealers make plans to reopen, Harley’s director of product sales, Beth Truett, stated in a memo, which was viewed by the WSJ, that about 70% of them likely wouldn’t receive any additional new motorcycles in 2020.

The motor company is pivoting from the “More Roads” plan to now focus efforts and energy to appeal to customers of premium-priced brands with limited availability.

Speaking of availability… By definition, excellence is scarce.  Harley-Davidson has leveraged “scarcity” previously. Underproduce motorcycles and limit distribution, which creates long waiting lists that in turn create an exclusivity mystique. Will it work again?

And speaking of premium positioning…

Harley-Davidson Eau de Toilette – Example of brand dilution!

Price alone won’t make a brand premium and few companies can thrive on limited market coverage and low volumes by commanding premium prices in a particular niche.  One thing is sure: motorcycle customers are price-sensitive, even if they are ready to pay a premium price for a … Harley lifestyle.

This means Harley-Davidson has to be able to truly earn the added value.

Data supports what we already know to be true about premium brands: people with lots of money buy nice things. Whether you’re talking apparel (i.e. Phat Farm, Polo, Timberland and Tommy Hilfiger), Tequila, hand bags (i.e. Gucci, Fendi, Louis Vuitton and Prada), restaurants or footwear, it’s easy to recognize the pattern that the nicest, most expensive brands are favored by consumers with the highest household income. What is less obvious, are the fewer instances when wealthy people opt for the less-expensive, or when average-income people make deep trade-offs to purchase really pricey things.  There are a whole lot more average-income people than there are excessively wealthy ones.

Strong brands have a strong identity. Mediocrity doesn’t captivate or win the motorcycle sales race. There is a rule of thumb that says that a company ought to be able to explain its brand identity in seven words, give or take a couple.

The clock is ticking Harley-Davidson!

So, what is it about “premium-ness” brands that are able to inspire consumers to say “no” to some things so they can say “yes” to a brand that’s often or slightly out of financial reach? That’s the Harley-Davidson opportunity.  Finding the nooks and crannies to up-sell consumers on “premium-ness” choices—especially a candy coated brand in the top tier of the motorcycle pack.

The Harley downside risk is the “Porsche Effect“… becoming known as an SUV manufacturer that also produces a few sports car models rather than the premier sports car brand that also makes SUVs.

I’d like to better understand how Harley-Davidson can retain a premium brand identity if combustion engines, once the top tier of American motorcycle engineering, are being replaced by e-motors (LiveWire) that can be built by almost anyone, and if motorcycles feel and act like smartphones that you no longer even have to own?  It’s likely that the V-Twin motors of the future will no longer be a distinguishing brand characteristic.

New competitors are knocking on the Milwaukee door and customers are better informed, have tougher requirements and are able to interactively rate and influence companies and their products.

In the end, what Harley-Davidson claims about it’s premium brand doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not consumers believe it enough to pay more for it.

Photos courtesy of Twitter Bob Tita/WSJ and Harley-Davidson.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Q1’20 Harley-Davidson Retail Motorcycle Sales + Motorcycles and Related Products Segment Results

Let’s jump right to that impressive Q1’20 financial result:

  • Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG) posted earnings of $69.7 million compared with $127.9 million in the same period a year ago.
  • The dividend was slashed to 2 cents a share from 38 cents.
  • The motor company is in talks with major U.S. banks to secure $1.3 billion in liquidity.
  • Harley’s U.S. retail sales were down 15.5% compared with the same period a year ago.
  • International retail sales were down 20.7% compared with 2019.
  • Harley’s U.S. heavyweight motorcycle market segment share was down 2.2 percentage points, to 48.9%.

Another quarter, another poor performance from Harley-Davidson, though the market seemed to buy into the promise that this time it will be able to turn things around.

Déjà vu…

Management promising to fix things again by “crafting strategy accelerants” to deliver improved sales and better returns.  However, it admitted that its efforts thus far haven’t worked and also said it was “refining” the plans it had already devised, but it wouldn’t reveal how it was going to achieve them until this summer. Granted the financial problems Harley-Davidson encountered this quarter aren’t necessarily all of its own making, though it hasn’t helped itself along the way.

It’s important to note that the Harley-Davidson trends in the U.S. have been weak for years despite the economy being strong for so long. That is a major problem and the acting Harley-Davidson CEO, Jochen Zeitz, remains vague on what the motorcycle company is going to do to change that dynamic.

The “ReWire” Board

The fact that management chose the term “ReWire”, emphasizing the electric future to describe their refining plans reads like a satirical article in The Onion.  It’s as if CEO, Jochen Zeitz said, “I’ve heard some concerns going around, and I want to impress upon each and every one of you that I’m taking every possible step to ensure that we tap into a market that has traditionally been neglected by motorcycle manufacturers, Harley-Davidson is announcing a new line of motorcycles designed specifically for men.”

The “ReWire” plan consists of five main points:

  • Enhance core strengths and better balance expansion into new spaces.
  • Prioritize markets that matter.
  • Reset product launches and product line-up for simplicity and maximum impact.
  • Build the Parts & Accessories and General Merchandise businesses to their full potential.
  • Adjust and align the organisational structure, cost structure and operating model to reduce complexity and drive efficiency, to set Harley-Davidson up for stability and success.

The ReWire playbook abandons some of the previously ratified “More Roads” plan, but there is so much “CEO Speak” — “designed to address top priority opportunities, drive consistent execution and reset the company’s operating model in order to reduce complexity, sharpen focus and increase the speed of decision making.” — in that investor call its difficult to know what exactly remains “committed” to or what will stop.

Little is certain these days, but there’s one sure thing: in a situation where 30+ million people were laid off or furloughed in the past 6-weeks, people are definitely thinking about their wallets.  And living with ever-present, crushing uncertainty and the knowledge that people all around us are dying isn’t the stimulus to rush out and purchase a new motorcycle.

Let us face facts.  It’s going to be a different world for a while. After all, temperature checks, touch-less payments, masks, wipes, take-out and distancing were not part of the Harley experience before the March closures.

If Harley-Davidson is about anything, it’s about bringing people together. Lots of them. And really, really close — with motorcycle rallies, music festivals, HOG events and all the cross country rides.  Looking at you Sturgis!

The whirlwind of 400,000+ motorcycle enthusiasts half-hearted adherence to CDC guidelines, while gathering all week in a number of local bars, and eating VEGAN-burgers could be viewed as a controlled experiment to determine the virus’s true incubation rate.

I have some gray in my hair and beard, something you will see in a majority of Harley enthusiasts.  I find the idea of a Harley specifically aimed at men deeply patronizing.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Remember that outsider who kept Harley-Davidson on the road?

Keith E. Wandell (retired H-D CEO) grabbed the handlebars at the company in the heart of the economic crisis in 2009. Harley lost $55 million that year, as buying a motorcycle stopped being an option for many consumers.

Wandell made some big statements. “Don’t let Harley-Davidson become General Motors!” Look in a mirror, he told staff – Harley was already so far down that same path [as GM] “it wasn’t even funny.”

Wandell took bold action and made quick decisions to focused the company on doing what many say it does best: Making big, powerful, premium-priced cruisers.

Keith Wandell

Keep in mind, this was when the great recession and credit crisis sent shockwaves through Harley-Davidson. In less than one year, bike shipments dropped about 25 percent.

Wendell cut the workforce – at least 2,700 hourly workers and 840 administrative employees. The economy was in the tank, the motor company had a big union labor force and old manufacturing processes.  People were just churning and everything was upside down at the company.

Imagine…

I’m not talking about celebrities’ filming themselves singing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, from their multi-acre estates and whining about their COVID-19 pandemic isolation.  Never has disproportionate privilege been so apparent and I for one am really fed up with their self-serving need to be in the public spotlight with style-over-substance videos.

But, I digress…

Mark-Hans Richer

It is equally important to recall Wandell’s right-hand “stunt man” — you may remember him as that over-the-top marketing genius who had women screaming, grown men crying and Oprah jumping up and down, chanting: “Everybody gets a car!

I’m talking about Mark-Hans Richer, who was Sr. VP, Chief Marketing Officer at Harley-Davidson, prior to his 2015 departure. Granted, Richer is currently employed at Fortune Brands, but with the mass exodus at Harley-Davidson and salary decreases across the executive staff it’s plausible to pull him back into the H-D team.

Richer, generated the most bankable kind of publicity: controversy.  He made the difference between a motorcycle brand being a rock star versus more employees working in the rental lot.

He’s the charismatic dude that dropped a Dyna Super Glide on Pope Francis at the Vatican.  Then turned around at a press briefing and said, I would be really upset if you felt our strategy was about “meeting the nicest people on a Harley” because I can tell you that ain’t the strategy.  Later he pontificated that a Harley costs less than “another tattoo, a parking ticket, a gas station burrito, and a lip ring” in an appeal to what makes millennials tick.  In 2002, he helped the company get named Company of the Year by Forbes magazine.

110th Anniversary Celebration

In a university commencement speech, he stated: “Everything I ever learned from business, I learned from Willie the Wildcat stuffed animal,” a business he started right out of college.  Richer secured the first major worldwide sports sponsorship for Harley-Davidson at UFC and was instrumental in X-Games marketing.

No, I don’t have a man crush.

Richer was a key contributor of the “Ride Home” anniversary events.  Do you remember when returning to the mecca of motorcycling in Milwaukee was truly an EVENT i.e. the 110th Anniversary festivities featured 60 bands, including Aerosmith, Kid Rock and ZZ Top.  Remember that 3 ½-hour set by Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band at the 105th Anniversary?   How about when Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl, committed a major sin on stage by cracking open a Coors in Miller Town?

100th Anniversary Celebration

There was the surprise headliner (Elton John) and outright disaster for the centennial anniversary. Musical highlights included Billy Idol, Kid Rock, Joan Jett, Poison, REO Speedwagon, the Doobie Brothers and Tim McGraw for the 100th anniversary so, people booing and walking out might have been overstated in the media.

Then came 2018 and time to celebrate 115 years of the open road.  Harley-Davidson CMO, Heather Malenshek tells the media the event is all about returning to its roots with a focus on the motorcycle, not the entertainment.  Huh?!  It was an unmitigated flop for entertainment.  She very quietly departs the company in October 2019.  Coincidence?

Indian is challenging Harley’s cash cow, the Road Glide.  BMW has market segment share in the ADV or “adventure motorcycle” sector and recently introduced the new R 18 touring, cruiser configuration to compete head-on with Harley-Davidson and Indian.  Rumors started circulating recently that Honda is introducing a new 1100 Rebel to compete directly with Harley-Davidson.

Pan American

Harley needs more than anything a fast start for a new model to become a breakout hit.  Is that the Pan American, ADV?

The ADV segment is crowded and entrenched with BMW, Honda, KTM, and newcomer Ducati, among others with decades, of dirt-tested refinement.  Harley doesn’t have the luxury of burning up stacks of cash on a another “vanity project.”

The Milwaukee motor company has a very narrow window to establish that hit. Gone are the days when a slow seller can be nurtured into a hit.  Here’s looking at you LiveWire and the “Field of Dreams” marketing of distressed or stigmatized merchandise!  I truly wonder if acting president and CEO Jochen Zeitz or Harley-Davidson management really understand why the LiveWire product is failing?

It’s logically time to recall Mr. Wandell and “CMO head-honcho,” Richer back from spending their days taking lunch at the Polo Lounge and crank up the H-D buzz machine.

What the media’s hourly drumbeat of “panic porn” on the COVID-19 trauma has shown us, cannot be unseen.  A motorcycle-less Los Angeles.  Coyotes wandering on the empty Golden Gate Bridge.  A quiet New York, where you can hear the birds chirp in the middle of Madison Avenue.

We’re in it. Stores are closed. Restaurants are empty. Streets and multi-lane freeways are barren.  Body bags in tractor trailers.  The Oregon beach is an eerie ghost town.  The economy has collapsed and a devastated 22+ million Americans have lost their jobs in four weeks.  It’s a dark feeling of rust, rot and ruin.

Illegitimi non carborundum.” The Latin phrase loosely translates to, “Don’t let the [COVID] bastard get you down.”

Motorcycle enthusiasts are the ones who understand why dogs stick their heads out the window.  In the famous words of a previous H-D CEO, Jeffrey Bleustein, “We (Harley) have to pretend ten fiery demons are chasing us at all times,” and “make the right bikes, at the right time, and get them to the right place!

Let’s all take a deep breath and get ready for a potential Harley-Davidson tsunami. What is about to be unleashed will be the greatest campaign ever created to get you to feel normal again.  Every brand will come to our rescue, dear consumer, to help take away that darkness and get life back to the way it was before the crisis.

The great American return to normal is coming and you won’t be able to ignore that deafening motorcycle exhaust noise.

Photos taken by author and courtesy of Harley-Davidson and Wikipedia.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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