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Hard Sell


Motorcycle sales are in the doldrums.  

Here's one reason why


In the December 25, 2017, edition of trade publication Powersports Business (“Inspiring Success Through Market Intelligence” reads the subhead), in the “Solutions” section, under the “Retail Remedies” banner, is the column “10 ways to increase profits with pre-owned sales” by Steve Jones. Before launching into the meat of his approach, Jones, writing to motorcycle dealerships, lays down the law. “Rule 1 of the used business: buy low and sell high…profit in the pre-owned business is made in the buy.” Jones’s next point—“Words are important!”—addresses the ambiguity within Rule 1. Is a motorcycle “pre-owned” or “used?”

"The words 'pre-owned' increase the customer's perception of value, which helps you justify the retail price"

“When you are buying,” writes Jones, “the unit is ‘used’; when you are selling, the unit is ‘pre-owned.’” The word “used,” according to Jones, creates a “perception of lower value, which helps justify your appraisal price.” The words “pre-owned,” however, increase the “customer’s perception of value, which helps you justify the retail price…” Salespersons in the dealership are to be coached and reminded “frequently” about these “key” words.


But what, exactly, does pre-owned mean? The prefix pre denotes before. Premarital (before marriage) is irrevocably tied to premature (before her satisfaction). If responsible steps were overlooked, pre-embryo is the beginning of your horror and pre-nuptial the sealing of your fate. Pre-owned precedes ownership. You can predecease (RIP) your Multistrada, you can be preoccupied by its lumpy running at low revs, and you can be aggrieved at its preposterously tall seat height. But a Multistrada cannot be preowned. A word for this condition already exits. That word is new.     


Jones, regrettably, encourages dealerships to perpetuate the browbeating motorcyclists endure from salesmen at trade-in time. A three-year-old Multistrada, about to be traded for a new (or is that unused?) KTM Adventure isn’t a desirable Italian motorcycle brimming with mechanical sophistication and electronic fortification. To the salesman, your bike is an unnecessarily complex machine cursed by Italian electrics. But, curiously, the Multistrada’s devaluation lasts only as long as it takes to squirt its chain with lube, spritz its bodywork with Armor All, and roll it into position on the showroom floor. Once the pre-owned tag is affixed to the Multistrada’s handlebar, its resurrection to respectable is complete. 


Jones wants dealerships to make a fair profit. And so do we. Profit means the dealership remains in business, so when you snap a clutch cable at noon on a Saturday, Sunday’s ride to the mountains or down to the shoreline isn’t a washout. And no dealerships mean no new motorcycles. The animus between dealerships and its customers is incomprehensible. Buying a new bike is thrilling. Share the joy with us. Make it a good experience and we’ll be back. And we’ll tell our friends. Jones is spot-on when he writes, “Words are important!” But use them to communicate—not to obfuscate.

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