How Can Product Managers Get Their Customers To Ride?

Product managers need to find out how to get young people to ride motorcycles
Product managers need to find out how to get young people to ride motorcycles
Image Credit: Jokamies .fi

How do you get to work every day? If you are like most of us, you jump into a car and drive there. However, there are some people, product managers among them, who instead jump on their motorcycles and drive them to work. Over at the Polaris company, their product managers would like more of us to get around on motorcycles. However, what they are discovering is that more and more young people are not viewing motorcycles as their preferred means of transportation. Clearly these product managers now have a challenge on their hands and will have to change their product development definition. How can they convince the next generation that riding a motorcycle is what they want to do?

Saying Goodbye To The Victory Line

The Polaris company makes a number of different products. They make snowmobiles, all terrain vehicles, and now motorcycles. They got into the motorcycle business by buying the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing brand from a private equity firm back in 2011 and then launched the Indian line of motorcycles two years later. The Polaris product managers created motorcycles that relied on the Indian motorcycle’s heritage of being driven by racers and barnstormers. The bikes created by Polaris were large, powerful bikes that had fender skirts, and an Indian-head shaped running light, and whitewalls.

Just having one line of motorcycles was not enough for the Polaris product managers. The first line that they developed was the Victory line which was then followed by the Indian line. The Victory motorcycles were mid-sized bikes with mid-sized prices. Having two lines of products is something that you can put on your product manager resume. The introduction of the Indian brand caused the Victory brand to start to shrink. However, sales of motorcycles fell by 2.7% in 2016 and this caused hard times for the company. The product managers took a tough look at where their money was coming from and decided to drop the money-losing Victory line of motorcycles. Going forward they intend on focusing exclusively on the Indian line.

Where the Polaris product managers are really going to be facing a challenge going forward is in the area of attracting younger riders. The Victory brand had attracted a sizable younger audience. This is going to become more and more important to Polaris as the baby boomer market continues to age and stops buying motorcycles. The challenge that the product managers are going to be facing is how to convert their younger Victory buyers into Indian buyers. If they don’t do a good job of this, they run the real risk of losing these customers to Harley-Davidson.

The Challenge Is To Get Younger Riders

The dropping of the Victory line opens the door to both Polaris and Harley-Davidson product managers to try to scoop up younger riders who are shopping for a motorcycle. Currently, the largest Indian models sell for roughly US$30,000. However, the bestselling bike in the line is the smaller Scout model which sells for $8,999. This is the kind of bike that most appeals to younger riders who live in urban areas.

The type of customer that the Polaris product managers are looking for is an early 30’s type of customer who both wants to start riding a motorcycle and who has some disposable income to spend on a new bike. Polaris makes a number of different products and motorcycles make up about 15% of the company’s total revenue. What the Polaris product managers now have to do is to find a way to pull the Victory sales into the Indian brand in order to make sure that they can keep the production volume up while at the same time making up for the smaller amount of money the company makes when they sell the popular cheaper Scout models.

Polaris has a significant rival in Harley-Davidson. Currently Polaris owns roughly 6% of the motorcycle market in the U.S. Harley-Davidson owns 50% of that same market. Harley is experiencing the same market downturn as Polaris and they have started to introduce some new mid-sized models that sell for less than $8,000. Harley is facing the same problems that the Polaris product managers are – its core group of customers are aging. Polaris’s plan for capturing younger riders is to introduce more Indian models this year. The goal is to aim these models at Victory customers and younger riders.

What All Of This Means For You

The world of motorcycles used to be pretty simple. The company that could make the biggest, fastest motorcycle would win. Harley-Davidson and Polaris were duking it out trying to build bigger and more expensive bikes to meet the needs of their customers. However, then things started to change. Those customers started to get older and stopped buying motorcycles. This created a new set of challenges for the Polaris product managers that wasn’t covered in their product manager job description.

The Polaris company had entered the motorcycle business by creating the Victory line. This was followed by the Indian line. The Victory motorcycles were mid-ranged, mid-priced models that were never profitable. The company has recently decided to kill off the Victory line and focus exclusively on the Indian line of motorcycles. The Victory line had attracted younger riders. Now the Polaris product managers are going to have to find a way to get those buyers to purchase Indian motorcycles. Harley-Davidson owns 50% of the motorcycle market, but they are experiencing the same drop in sales as their customers start to become older. Polaris plans on trying to recapture the younger rider market by introducing new Indian bikes that will appeal to the former Victory customers.

Product managers who are competing in a market with a changing customer base have a real challenge on their hands. The Polaris product managers have to discover a way to make their products appeal to a new generation of motorcycle rider. At the same time, they need to make sure that they don’t lose customers to Harley-Davidson. Their plan to introduce new models may allow them to be successful. We’re going to have to watch and see how this all works out!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think getting a young spokesperson for the Indian brand of motorcycles would help to attact younger riders?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Once upon a time (about 10 years ago) the American racing system called NASCAR was at the top of its popularity. There were movies made about it, and fans tuned in to watch every race on television. However, those days are now long over. The television audience for NASCAR races is down by 45% in the past 5 years. At the racetracks where the NASCAR races are run, the owners have removed roughly 25% of their seating and yet there are still empty seats at each event. Clearly something has gone wrong here and it’s going to be up to the NASCAR product managers to change their product development definition and discover what is wrong and find a fix for it.