I admit it. As Harley Davidson of Tampa General Manager Randy Welter and I wandered through his nearly 30,000-square-foot slice of Hog Heaven at 6920 N. Dale Mabry I began feeling feverish – hot flashes followed a series of impulsive, irrational urges to inquire about the costs of certain bikes. The last time I came down with this particular affliction was in 2005 when I bought and drove a motorcycle off another showroom floor and put over 200 miles on my new bike before talking my wife into riding double back to the dealership to retrieve my car. And that was just a Japanese Bike; Tuesday I was interviewing an executive of the Harley culture, a corporate guru of the “Harley Davidson Family.”
“Where do you want to start,” asked Welter.
The question snapped me back to reality like a hypnotic command.
“Your office would be great; I’ll grab some photos of the showroom and best-selling bikes after we chat about the 2012 Harley Davidson line up,” I said.
He agreed and I closed the door behind us.
“Glad you shut the door. That will cut down on interruptions” Welter said.
“Perfect, I thought.” Actually, I shut the door to stifle the provocative scent of new tires and to block the spectacular view of colorful Sportsters, Street Bobs, Super Glide Customs and Road King handlebar shakers that I swear telepathically messaged “let’s ride” to me while we were in the showroom.
I started the interview by asking Welter if there was a typical Harley Davidson customer.
“I’ve sold bikes to sports celebrities from around the area – hockey players, baseball, football players, names you would recognize, as well as welders, salesmen, doctors and lawyers,” said Welter. “There really isn’t a typical Harley owner anymore; they come from every walk of life.”
Having rode long enough to know that Japanese “crotchrockets” are still popular with young riders and there aren’t nearly as many women cruising Tampa Bay boulevards on motorcycles as men, I asked Welter what the company was doing to attract those demographics.
“Let’s face it; our traditional clientele are getting older. We have to go after the younger market too,” Welter said. We think the Iron 83, Super Low, Forty-Eight Fatboy, Night Rod and other spirited models will convert the Japanese and European bike owners to the Harley Davidson Family. Harley Davidson is definitely designing machines and products that appeal to younger customers and women in particular.
Welter emphasized that more women are joining the Harley Davidson Family each year and the foreign market is expanding rapidly. In the apparel section of the store is a selection of feminine accessories including pink leather jackets and helmets for women who enjoy thundering along a twisty route hanging onto ape bars while the wind rushes around their bodies simulating the freedom of flight. Not to mention lady bikers turn heads just about everywhere they go, not that attracting attention is the main reason more women are buying Harleys each year. But I digress. Riding is an exhilarating personal experience absolutely undiminished by gender. However women do have separate dressing rooms in Harley Davidson of Tampa Bay’s spotless showroom apparel sections at all locations.
Welter said the Screaming Eagle is the top-of-the-line Harley Davidson and lists for about $37,000, but there are some very affordable, fine looking, great performing Harley Davidson models that go for a fraction of that amount. In case new bikes are over one’s personal budget, Harley Davidson of Tampa Group has large selections of previously-owned motorcycles at each of the three stores in the Tampa Bay area and all locations feature low-mileage machines that look about as new as the beastly beauties in the main showroom.
The Jump Start is an operator training machine that allows new riders to operate a Harley Davidson and get used its features without balancing or driving the bike. The Jump Start elevates the wheels enough to clear the pavement and the rider can throttle the engine to an equivalent of 60 miles per hour while working controls such as the blinker signal, gear shifter and instrumentation.
Welter said there was a time when Harley Davidson production lagged behind demand.
That era ended years ago, he said.
“We know that you can by brand X cheaper, but we really, truly emphasize the whole Harley Davidson Experience,” Welter said. “Our customer service is over the top, we deliver, we rent almost every Harley model available and we conduct riding school to help new riders get their licenses certified and to operate their new bikes safely.”
Harley Davidson salespeople approach customers conversationally, not with a barrage of clichés, according to Welter. “We all ride, and we are professionals in the business and we know what we’re talking about, but we emphasize that owning a Harley Davidson is a whole experience,” said Welter.
According to Welter, the Harley Family gatherings at Harley Davidson of Tampa Group’s dealerships draw customers, curious window shoppers, friends and family members of Harley Davidson owners and also people who are looking to buy a new bike that day.
Everybody is welcome to our “family gatherings” said Welter. People have to buy cars and trucks, but most don’t have to buy motorcycles, and we know that, so from sales to service we will make you happy, he said.
The unique Harley Davidson Family approach to sales seems to be working because during the first three months of 2011 Harley Davidson sold 49,595 bikes globally compared to 47,925 bikes in the same quarter of 2010, for a quarterly increase of 1,670 machines, according to Market Watch. Not bad considering the sales of many recreation vehicles have dropped faster than Harley Davidson sales increased in that period.
Check out Harley Davidson of Tampa Bay Group for locations, model details and tons of information about Harley Davidson products and experience.
Still, I’m sure glad I didn’t react to any of the aforementioned irrational impulses while interviewing Randy Welter for this story. My wife would have me down at Harley Davidson of Tampa selling bikes on commission or sweeping up the place until that gleaming red Road King was paid off.