Morphing, Millennials and Platforms
Congratulations to AIMExpo for their latest custom market initiative – “Custom Culture.” Without wanting to get directly into the debate here about V-Twin Expo Vs. AIMExpo (except say that I don’t see it as ‘Vs.’ at all – there is room and need for both and they are polar opposites of each other in all the most important respects – timing, venue, formula etc), seeking to embrace the emerging new “Millennial Beards” is smart, and necessary.
As the slew of new shows, shops and sites that have opened up in recent years shows, there is a new “space” there, but thinking that this represents some kind of economic powerhouse is wide of the mark - at this stage.
It is too early to think that the “new scene” will want to embrace “the man” - yet! Indeed, thinking it will, this soon, misses the lesson of history and misses a critical variable that this new generation of riders actually shares in common with the original Boomers - platforms. They are “platform diverse”.
The Boomer- Boom that fuelled the emergence of the custom parts and accessories parts aftermarket for the past thirty or more years started out as a reaction against crated riding solutions costing more than any young rider could possibly afford and only became, itself, an economic powerhouse once the waistlines and wallet books had fattened.
The good news is that the Millennials will, no doubt, no question about it, do the same as the Boomers in time – put on weight and bank balance! But while they will currently visit events that are cheap to attend, buy the cheap Tees, buy cheap bikes, build cheap bikes, and customize bikes, cheaply, we are still a decade or two away from them being able to buy expensive bikes, build expensive bikes or customize expensively.
Millennials are filling the void
Leaving aside the issue of market renewal, it has always been a paradox to me that many in the industry have bemoaned that our median demographic hovers in the mid forty year range because that means that over 90 percent of the market’s business activity is dependent on consumers in the range 30 to 60 … peak buying power territory.
In terms of market renewal, the good news is that the Millennials are filling the void that appeared to have followed the Boomers – all generations react against what has gone before, so it was no surprise that ‘Gen-X’ showed much less inclination for riding than their father’s generation(s).
Motorcycling staged a comeback with the so-called ‘Gen-Y’ cohort, manifesting many characteristics that riding met in spades. They and the ‘Millennials’ are the consumers of tomorrow, but first of all they need to do things their own way – but don’t worry, their spending habits will mature like a fine wine.
At present this new generation needs and seeks to eliminate as many mark-up levels from their modest budgets as they can in order to be able to ride at all. They need the shortest possible supply chain and the cheapest possible spend options.
The move up the spending graph will come in time, and, just as it did with the Boomers, it will do so for a variety of reasons – not least because as people acquire wealth they, mostly, like to spend it; and the greater their wealth the greater their desire to allow their spending options to reflect their affluence.
So history teaches us that what looked cool when they had the beards, will ultimately be “so yesterday” by the time they’ve shaved the beards off. The ‘Millennials’ may even follow the Boomers by becoming “brand tribal,” but at present there is a long way to go before we see one of their principal defining characteristics, namely being brand diverse, morph into the kind of homogeneity that was necessary to create air-cooled v-twin parts and accessory critical mass.
At present the internet and cheap platforms are their best friends, but it won’t always be thus. Eventually these riders, in busy and affluent middle age with wife, home, yard, children and punishing work/life imbalance will come to value the services of their local shop, and start to be sensitive about what the platform parked on the drive says about them - wealth and all.
One of the reasons Harley recovered so strongly from near oblivion in 1984 was that they eventually learned not be afraid of price; indeed, some have argued that until the Lehman Apocalypse cancelled all bets - the more expensive they became, the more successful they became, in both balance sheet and volume terms.
Does this render the initiative that AIMExpo and others are taking (including Harley, to be fair) to start reaching out to these proto-consumers pointless? No, far from it.
It isn’t as simple as inventing the brand or concept and the people will come, but the sooner a business starts the process of learning how to bring new customers in, the sooner it will start to understand what works for them and what doesn’t
Therefore, the stronger that business’s position will be when those consumers are ready to take the bait. It is only from trying and maybe failing sometimes that you learn how to succeed, and while I am not suggesting that AIMExpo is about to fall on its ass with its “Custom Culture” (quite the reverse), its endeavours cannot exploit what is not yet there – but it can help to kick-start a process that the whole of the industry needs to embrace – learning how to sell to ‘Millenials’, learning what they’ll buy, why they’ll buy it and being ready to ring up the sale when the sands of time determine their readiness.
One final thought – kudos to BMW (and other OEMs for their initiatives too) for the upcoming price-point entry level R nineT and ‘Legacy’ line of custom platforms they’ll be unveiling alongside the AMD World Championship of Custom Bike Building at ‘INTERMOT Customizing’ in Cologne, Germany, in October. Check out the news on pages 32 and 33 of this edition.