A Retailer Who Doesn’t Want My Money?

July 29, 2009 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

I just left $80 at a local Kawasaki motorcycle dealer for a part the size of a turkey leg. But that’s nothing considering the small fortune I spend keeping the family’s dirtbikes running. The odd part is that I tried to leave that very same $80 at two different Kawasaki dealers before I found one who’d take it. The first two told me I could not place a credit card order for a part over the phone. They said I’d have to drive across town, hand them the credit card to place the order, and then return to the store when the part arrived a week or so later. It was particularly galling since I’d purchased two motorcycles from one of the dealers.

“Oh and by the way we close at 6:00 p.m.,” I was told by the employee at the first dealer.The sad part is I love motorcycles and I genuinely care about how the industry is performing. I hate seeing dealers close their doors, and more of them are doing just that in this economy. Harley-Davidson’s second-quarter earnings were off 91 percent. It’s downright bloody out there. And I know the two dealers in question are struggling right along with the rest. Internet companies now command a huge portion of the high margin motorcycle parts and accessories business that was once the sole domain of local shops like these. I’ve often heard retail motorcycle dealers bemoaning the fact that their customers buy bikes from them and everything else on the Internet because it’s cheaper. Maybe. But I have a feeling it has just as much to do with convenience and service. Nobody gets a free pass anymore, and that obviously includes the brick and mortar retailers. Companies like Amazon, Zappos, Best Buy and legions of other sharp retailers have completely re-calibrated customer expectations. And those expectations hold when customers shop across categories. In this respect all retailers compete with all other retailers as customers shop and compare experiences.I’ve been around motorcycles my whole life and I know the industry isn’t exactly setting the standard for best retail practices. And while the solution for these two Kawasaki dealers may be simple to spot for the marketing-minded, I’m often left scratching my head after similar experiences with retailers in other categories. The lesson, I suppose, is for retailers to keep looking at their businesses through the eyes of the customer. It’s not a new lesson by any means, but it’s certainly one that bears frequent repeating.

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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