Motorcycle dealer draws road map to sales

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The brainstorm of a BMW bike dealer and a small marketing agency in Colorado could revolutionize motorcycle-sales operations.

The effort began when Gordon Callbeck, general manager of BMW of Denver, was approached by an agency called AirwaysExpress. The shop proposed the creation of a database filled with information gleaned from event registration forms, consumer behavior on a Web site (goxplor.org) and shoppers' conversations with showroom staff.

The dealership would then use the database to send prospects who had opted in to e-mail updates a monthly offer geared at getting them to turn up to events sponsored by the dealer's bike clubs and take a test drive, whether or not they already owned a vehicle. The information in the database would also be handed to staff at the dealerships, who would therefore be able to greet potential customers at the door with a virtual saddlebag of information about their tastes and buying habits.

Mr. Callbeck, the dealer, liked the plan and agreed to invest $5,000 of his own money. The president of Airways Express, Richard Allen, put up the other $25,000 to $30,000 to make his shop's brainchild a reality, in the hope that U.S. dealer group BMW Motorrad USA, with its national marketing clout and budgets, would adopt the system for all of its 160 dealerships.

BMW wouldn't support the effort, said Mr Callbeck, although a BMW spokesman could not be reached for verification. Still, with the money from Mr. Callbeck and Mr. Allen, the idea became a reality. "I agreed to stick my neck out early because I just thought that the motorcycle division didn't get around to joining the film set yet," said Mr. Callbeck, referring to BMW's auto division and its lauded BMW Films series.

Since Harley Davidson dominates the motorcycle market with 48% share compared to BMW's 2% share, Mr. Callbeck said he also believed it was crucial to look at new ways to persuade prospects to touch and feel the "superior" BMW engineering.

15% increase

The e-mail campaign worked, increasing sales for the dealer by 15%. (Such customized e-mail programs often lift sales results as much as 100%, claimed Chris Baggott, chief marketing officer of ExactTarget, which licenses the e-mail and database software.) And a group of investors is so excited about the marketing possibilities of the e-mail-based campaign that it is seeking to buy the shop and a number of other dealerships carrying both BMW and rival Harley-Davidson.

The investment group, made up of Colorado-based motorcycle enthusiasts, plans to incorporate the e-mail program in its scheme to centralize the business and marketing strategy for the dealerships and increase profitability, said Denver accountant Dan Predovich, one of the investors.

"This type of management hasn't been tried yet in the motorcycle industry," Mr. Predovich said. The one-to-one database would support another new idea-the selling of motorcycle parts and accessories on an e-commerce site. That is something that's not possible with items such as larger, less shippable auto parts.

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