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

Monday, May 28, 2007

Motorcycle Dealer Web Pages - Your Fly Is Open

Forgive me if my blog is sometimes a bit amateurish, less than erudite, and contains typos. You see, I'm not in this for the money, I have no commercial aspirations for "Forty Years On Two Wheels" nor do I expect it to make me famous (spare me the snide comments, that's my job). I am doing this primarily for my own amusement and the amusement of all twelve people who read my blog regularly. But for those who are running a web site tied to a commercial enterprise…oh say… a motorcycle dealership, no forgiveness is in order. Businesses should be businesslike in their store and in their web presence. The Internet is not going away, it's going to get bigger and more pervasive. As the saying goes, "You can get on the bus or be under the bus but the bus is leaving."

When it comes to buying and selling, the Internet changed everything although you would think from visiting some motorcycle dealerships or dealer web sites that the 'Net was merely a temporary curiosity that will fade with time. Visiting web sites it is easy to see some patterns emerge. Usually big dealers have decent web sites that are more or less useful. Small dealers have small web sites that are little more than a business card on the web and are usually useless for anything more than an address and phone number and sometimes not even those.

So here are some of the problems I've seen as I've wandered through the glittering ghetto of motorcycle dealer web sites (and some accessory sites):

Amateur graphics and pages
Mr. Dealer, don't have your 12 year old son do your web site or have it put together in exchange for a crash helmet by some guy who's only web experience is filling out his MySpace site. As Thomas Wolf said "You are what you pretend to be." Here's your chance to put a nice face on your business before the customer sees it. Hire a pro to do your site and make sure you include useful things of interest to your customers and potential customers.

Nekid graphics and pictures
Hey, good looking women are part of motorcycling, right? So why not splash some bikini babes across your web site? Because. You shouldn't because it's unprofessional and more than a few guys sit at the computer with their wife or kids (or boss) around and don't want them to think ol' dad's a perv. Your potential customer might be struggling to convince his better half that he should spend a zillion dollars of the family finances on a new bike and when she sees Kathy Cantaloupes on your web page it's all the excuse she needs to shut down your future customer. "So...that's it, that's why you want a bike, you want to be around big chested women? Well mister, aren't I enough for you? Hmm? I was last year on your birthday! Want something better?? Hmm??" It goes down hill from there and you don't sell a bike. Leave the bimbos to the porno pages, the pervs know where to find them.

Pre-fabbed graphics and pages like everyone else uses
It's common now to find that many dealership pages look alike because they are using canned pages provided to them by a bike company. When dealers do that it says to the world "We have no imagination nor any idea what our dealership is about and don't care to find out." Try, please try, to make your store web page unique even if it's just a mom and pop place. Really, you'll be proud if you make the effort have more than just and ordinary website and you might even learn something new about your own business.

Outdated pages
OK, you've let someone talk you into putting up a web page or maybe as a franchisee of major brand you're required to do so. For Pete's sake, keep the pages updated. I looked at a page the other night that offer red hot financing deals…from 2005. Earth to dealer, earth to dealer, it's 2007 and you need to assign someone (and hold them accountable) for keeping your pages up to date. You look like an idiot when your pages date from two years ago or even two months ago. Another real annoying thing is to see a nice used bike for sale only to call and be told "Ah..we sold that one about three months ago." Do tell? Then why is it still advertised? Seems misleading although what it really says is that the dealership is fairly disorganized and doesn't actually care what people think about the sales experience.

No reply to inquires
Congratulations, you have a web page up and even a way for the customer to contact you and ask about a bike or…gasp...getting a bike serviced. Now answer the fricken' e-mails from your customers! Geez, this one really ticks me off. In a professional world ignoring an e-mail from a customer is a very bad thing. Someone has written you with the intent at some point of trading you genuine US dollars for your goods and services. That's the whole idea of being in business, right? Answer the writer within minutes with an automated message and within the day (on business days) with a personal reply. Someone else will do it if you don't.

I actually wrote a dealer via his web site about a bike asking when it would be available and what the price would be. After seven days with no reply I decided to stop and inquire in person. I mentioned the e-mail inquiry and the guy looked at me semi-slack jawed and just said "Uh…I think I remember that…I thought I wrote you back…maybe I didn't." Thank you for the respect. I'll shop elsewhere where they give fig about the customer.

Big empty spots where there should be inventory lists, calendars of events, and used inventory
Ah there it is on your web page, a calendar of upcoming events. I click on the calendar and find…nothing. No events at the dealership, no ride events, no upcoming racing events, zilch. Nice touch. You're really involved in the sport aren't you? You're working hard to promote your business by reaching out to the customers, aren't you?

Using sales brochure boiler plate text for a used bike description
When a dealer actually lists a used bike for sale in the "pre-owned inventory" section of their web page often the description is merely boiler plate text from the sales brochure for the bike. No, I don't wish to know about a new bike, I want to know about THAT bike. Miles, condition, service history, paint or body issues. If you cared you'd make the effort tell me about what you want to sell me.

No shop hours (or new hours with the page not updated)
I'd like to come in a see your store in person and talk to a sales person (preferably one who knows something about bikes) but I don't know where you are or what your hours are. Would you do your YellowPages ad that way? Hot tip: I suspect the web is more important to modern customers than the YellowPages.

Canned catalog ordering from Parts Unlimited
Parts Unlimited has stuck some sort of deal with lots of dealers now to put their catalog of bike and ATV parts on-line on the dealers web site. I presume the idea is that I will look through the catalog, call the dealer, he will call Parts Unlimited sometime during the week and order my stuff. Wrong. If you don't have it, don't bother trying to sell it. Much easier for me to just go to any one of a dozen genuine on-line stores and order from what their site will tell me they have on hand and ready to ship. I'll have it on my front door before you get your order into P.A.

Descriptions of models are only links back to the mfgr's page
I've already been to the manufacturer's page and used his Find-A-Dealer function to find your page. Tell me something I don't already know like you have a bike on special or your race team will be racing that model this weekend or there will be a demo day later in the month.

No link support for local rider organizations and events
Support your customers, their clubs and events. It's the neighborly thing to do and in the long run it will be good for business. Don't support your local riders and events and your customers might begin to think you are just in the bike business only for the money.

Giving out MSRP prices only w/o saying that prices can be negotiated in person
A local dealer advertises on some local web sites. The guys there say "Contact XYZ Motors and they'll treat you right." So I e-mail XYZ Motors via their web site telling them I'm looking for their best price on a new Moto-TourFlogger YZRM1000 and I'll be buying in a week. They send me a canned response quoting me full list price with every possible phony add-on. Period. Hey, if you don't want to give out discount prices over via e-mail, I understand, just say so. Just personalize the note by giving me the MSRP with the add-ons broken down and a friendly invitation to come in and get a good price when I'm ready to do the deal.

One last thing: Clean your store. It's a probably a pig sty. Most are from what I have seen. As with the web page, hire a professional if you must but a grimy, dirty store and a public restroom that looks like a club house for flesh eating bacteria doesn't help influence anyone in a positive way, especially when the wife comes along to give her assent to a big ticket purchase.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

"All Who Wander Are Not Lost"

The blog post title above is a quote from JRR Tolkien who never had a GPS navigation system. Tolkien apparently had a sense of optimism about traveling that I don't share. For some of us, a little hi-tech help is in order so I figured "Heck, if they can blow up terrorists in East Camelfart using GPS for rocket guidance then a GPS ought to be able to get me to places I've never been to before also."

I have watched the motorcycle GPS (Global Positioning System) personal navigation trend for some time now, saw what other guys were affixing to their bikes, and was intimidated slightly by GPS jargon and acronyms, not to mention the pretty stiff prices for the cool looking stuff like Garmin's made-for-motorcycles Zumo GPS. GPS I could understand ok, but did I need WAAS? What datum do people use mostly? I thought "datum" was something my wife's mom didn't want her to do with me. Do I need track back and auto rerouting? How big is the track log and how many data points can it hold? Is the POI database useful or too limited in scope? More importantly, did I need to spend $900??

GPS looked like a cool gadget for anyone that likes to wander around the country on a motorcycle but I decided to wait and watch. I love tech stuff, gadgets, cool gizmos just like most guys do; I might be something of a retro-grouch about motorcycling in general but advancements that make riding more fun, easier, safer, and of course faster, have always be fine with me. Buying a copy of "GPS for Dummies" gave me something technical to digest and help me figure it all out. As Dirty Harry said "A man's got to know his limitations."

I have always had a great sense of direction except when I was lost but having a sense of direction doesn't help you find an unmarked road in the wilds of Arizona or a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store when it is essential to do so. It's not that I can't read a map and use a compass but it's tough to do that while riding. Last year on vacation while winding through the back roads of New Mexico looking for the memorial marker to my old circus pal, Wally the Midget, I finally gave up in exasperation because of the unfamiliar roads and lack of signage. I'm sure with a GPS we would have had better luck or at least had something to blame besides us for not finding the appropriate spot to leave the bouquet of plastic, water squirting flowers. Riding a motorcycle is a complex proposition as it is and I've never had much success trying to follow a map while riding and there never seems to be a place to pull over when you do want to check the map closely. More importantly, you never have to try and refold a GPS when the wind is blowing.
I knew whatever I got for a GPS would have to not only be functional for me but functional for the Mrs. I love tech stuff and still sometimes bring up the DOS prompt in Windows just for old times sake but Wife?  Well…any tech gizmo from a computer to a digital camera better be simple to use and involve no reading of manuals. As she has told me about the HDTV, the DVD recorder, satellite DVR, cellular phones, and other assorted 21st century gizmos: "I'm an artist, I paint things. You are the engineer, you read manuals." It's good to have a clear delineation of duties in a marriage.
I opted to dither about a bit longer waiting for GPS prices to come down. I've been burned enough times on tech goodies and have learned not to jump in too soon. It was a sad day when I tossed my old $4,000 386/16 MHz desktop computer in the dumpster. You rarely have to throw a ten year old motorcycle into the dumpster because even your cheapskate neighbor won't take it for free.

Finally, while reading the Adventure Rider forum one evening, I spotted a post about EdgeGPS.com selling Garmin StreetPilot 2610 factory refurb'd units for $275 and with a full factory warranty, no less. I had looked enough and browsed enough over the last couple of years that I knew a good deal when I saw one. I whipped out my trusty VISA card and two days later I was the proud owner of a GPS with a moderately thick but fairly useless manual. Garmin had written a manual that told me many things except the stuff I wanted to know about the intricacies of the unit.

As always, undaunted by a lack of knowledge and practical experience I set about getting the new Garmin unit working. I downloaded maps, configured a few important waypoints (motorcycle shops) and then got the unit hooked it up in the car. Yes, the car. I decided to fiddle around a bit and get used to the functions of the GPS without the distractions of having to control a motorcycle. Hey, everyone one else driving a car is smoking, listening to their iPod, talking in the cell phone or putting on lipstick so why can't I play with the GPS while driving? I have a Constitutional right to be a distracted idiot in a car just like everyone else. OK, just kidding. Actually, the Garmin's button/touch screen/menu system is obscure enough that to use it much while actually driving I found I had to take both hands off the steering wheel and pull the GPS off the dash to get it close enough to see it with my bifocals. A better solution was to program everything at home and then if I need to change something I find a place to pull over just like when you use a paper map.

No fingers were harmed in the making of this photo.

Another hit on the Visa Card brought me another box of expensive bits and pieces needed to move the GPS between the car, the Gold Wing, and the Aprilia. Having the GPS on the Gold Wing is still a new experience but I'm accomplished enough with the Garmin by now to be able to push a button or two while moving. I rarely get the screen I want the first time but I can push the buttons, at least. Progress slowly but surely.

I'm still not clear on all the little details of GPS but I've programmed in the location of all my favorite motorcycle shops, Mexican restaurants, art supply stores, and the theoretical location of Wally the Midget's memorial marker in New Mexico. Should be fun to find them all and never ever get lost again. If I do get lost I know for sure how to find the buttons for "Home - GoTo."

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"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence

An Important reminder from the past:
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." - James Madison