~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Welcome To Generic Motors

"Industry analysts said it makes sense to put all the products under one roof so that anyone buying a generator can be encouraged to look at an all-terrain vehicle or a car." - The Globe and Mail.

According to the article in the Globe and Mail newspaper website, Honda Canada is going to a combined store that will sell all Honda products from cars to bikes to weed-eaters all in one big store. Just think, a Wal-Mart-style store for Hondas. I can only guess how wonderful the service and sales situation will be there. Short of sales help in the Gold Wing Department? Just grab one of the guys from the Lawnmower Department. A Honda is a Honda, right? A motorcycle is no more or less special than a weed trimmer or a portable generator, right? The customer for a motocross bike is just as dim spirited as the mini-van driving suburbanite buying a lawnmower, right? Idiots.

Let me adjust my crusty old curmudgeon hat here before I continue.

I long for the day when a motorcycle shop was a place run by people who loved bikes and rode bikes and saw their customers as fellow riders, not sales prey. Long ago, hanging around in a motorcycle shop on Saturday meant meeting friends there, talking bikes, maybe snagging a test ride because the owner or sales guy knew you and knew you were getting tired of your old bike or had just sold it to a pal. Hanging around a bike shop on Saturday meant making new friends and learning things about bikes that you didn't know before. It meant reading Cycle News all the way through and then paying for it because that was the decent thing to do and you wouldn't want to cheat the owner who's name you knew and who knew your's. Hanging around the shop meant knowing the mechanic and the service manager (if there was one) and being able to get a question answered correctly by someone who knew the bikes forward and backwards. Motorcycle shops were colorful places that smelled of engines and adventure, were filled with people who were characters and machines that would become legendary.

Motorcycles are special, they are not like other vehicles. Motorcycles are individualist vehicles, they have history and culture and danger and excitement all wound up into one, amazing machine. Motorcycles have been around since before cars. Motorcycles are unique, rebellious, scary, sexy, and demanding. Motorcycles and motorcycling are diminished by being mass merchandised like generators or hamburgers. McDonald's didn't make the hamburger any better, they just did a better job of selling it. Honda won't improve motorcycling with this latest move, they'll just sell more Hondaburgers.

The people who ride motorcycles for fun, pleasure, adventure, and a way of life are not ordinary people. Motorcycle riders value the camaraderie of the own kind but find satisfaction in the deep solitude of a long ride alone. Ordinary people drive cars, usually white or beige ones with the radio set to play muzak and with the driver's brain set to numb. Ordinary people find no pleasure in controlling their vehicle, they drive it because they must and therefore to the car driver his vehicle should be as bland and unobtrusive as possible, that's why white is still the most popular color for new cars. In my experience motorcycle riders are usually independent types not afraid to be different, not afraid to look different, not afraid to feel the disapproving stares of the people who would wrap the world in a cocoon and smother everyone in peace and safety and the mediocrity of the masses even while they kill their spirits. Motorcyclists deserve better than mass merchandising their sport and their passion.

People will flock to that big store in Canada and when it succeeds Honda will probably do the same program in the USA. Honda will cater to the great mass of sheeple who value price and convenience above history, knowledge, genuine service, and the kinship of the motorcycle experience. I don't doubt that even people who love bikes will visit that store and the stores like it that are sure to come but I hope that when motorcycle enthusiasts lay down their hard earned cash it is with the independent motorcycle shop that is run by an owner who works there, rides bikes himself, and actually knows the names of his best customers.

I spoke recently with someone who had of late worked in a big "powersports" store here in the Phoenix, AZ area: They hired a guy for sales who didn't ride and knew nothing about motorcycles or even ATVs or generators...but he'd sold consumer electronics for six months and therefore knew enough about sales tactics to sell motorcycles. That's who you'll find at your one-size-fits-all Honda stores as they spread across the landscape.

Wouldn't it be a grand thing to walk into a motorcycle shop and be greeted by employees who actually ride regularly, even race, and truly know the products they represent? I know, I'm a dreamer, and worse, a dreamer stuck in the past and maybe a past that barely existed anyway. Mass merchandising of motorcycles is a reality already, maybe it's the only way for a business to be profitable now but the world of motorcycling is poorer for it and motorcyclists are too.


Anonymous said...

Hear hear.

The small shop is a dying breed. They're still out there but they're getting harder to find.

Crusty said...

As a small bike shop owner I totally agree with you. This younger generation does not understand or appreciate what a close relationship with a small local shop can mean. I have stayed open late many times for customers. I have left parts behind bushes because a customer can’t make it to the store until late at night. Local clubs are always hitting me up for door prizes for their events. I give out so much free advice its amazing I’m still in business!. What is sad is that customers come into my shop, pick my brain and then STILL go to the big mega-mall stores. But guess who they come see when they get screwed? Ahhh the life of a small business owner. -Crusty

Anonymous said...

Hey, Doug! Great insight and analysis. I've been following your blog for a short while, first on the ST and since you bought another Capo--a bike that interests me.

I am in Phoenix for a few days. Perhaps we'll get a chance to meet some day.


Doug Klassen said...

I suppose there will always be small shops here and there and hopefully enough customers to keep them going. Motorcycling attracts people prone to take risks and as a former small business owner I know that love of a hobby can maybe, almost, sometimes, make up for the long hours and low pay. And then there's always the chance that you might make it big. I didn't but it was fun while it lasted.

d. Brent, Sorry I missed you. Give me a heads up e-mail next time you're this way and maybe we can meet up and shoot the breeze.

Steve Williams said...

The trend towards larger, more impersonal, and staff nothing more than cashiers and shelf stockers has already changed the face of the American store. I can only think of a couple of places around here.

One of them is our local Ducati, Triumph and Vespa dealer. Almost all the employees ride regularly and some race. They are pleasant and helpful. No fragrance of work and machines though. They have a new facility that is more closely aligned with a modern sales boutique than an old cycle shop.

Coming to riding again late in life I have missed all the cool bike shops. The wheels of profit are flattening the personality of business.

PS. I will never, ever, ever go into a Best Buy. Not even if they sell Vespas at half price.

Lucky said...

Doug - I concur.

I've been to a few "mega-dealers" for certain marques that deal in both the auto and moto markets. One was for BMW and the other was for Suzuki. The Suzuki shop was, in essence, and automobile dealer who decided to start selling motorcycles and ATV's because it was all under the same brand. Problem was (and still is) that none of the guys actually ride. Even the mechanic was a car guy who simply went for a few MC workshops in order to get "certified" (for whatever that's worth). The other place I saw, which dealt with BMW cars and motorcycles, was very different. Although both under the same roof, it was almost as if they were completely seperate businesses. The car side had their employees, and the bike side had their own. In that case, the overall experience wasn't all that bad.

Still, there are a few small family-owned shops around my neck of the woods where I still prefer to hang-out and spend my hard-earned money.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I found your site a few days ago. I have been working (lol its not a chore.) my way through the archives. I enjoy your writing, and this struck a cord with me. Thanks.

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