Hurting Harley-Davidson Turns to Lady Riders


After 107 years of motorcycle dominance, Harley-Davidson is paying serious attention to a customer base that it ignored for nearly a century: women. With Harley’s sales hurting — they dropped 10% last year, no surprise given that motorcycles are typically a luxury purchase –- the company has doubled its efforts toward attracting a new customer base, by relaunching its campaign to appeal to women.

Releasing a line of motorcycles designed for women in 2007 didn’t do much to boost sales. So, in March of this year, Harley started keeping 650 of its U.S. dealerships open after-hours (sometimes until 10 pm) to hold women-only “Garage Parties” that are meant to “educate” women and get them excited about the lady bikes. At these events, attendees can try on Harley gear and learn how to ride properly (since apparently they can’t figure that out themselves?), as well as enter monthly contests with prizes like a three-day trip to L.A.

There is method to Harley’s move — since 2003, the number of female motorcyclists has steadily increased. And according to Harley CEO Keith Wandell, women have been asking for tailored bikes for years. Add to that the ever-rising purchasing power of female consumers — not to mention the stats showing that women are faring better in the recession, and could be emerging as the group with more disposable income.

To advertise the new campaign, the company hired Sports Illustrated model Marisa Miller — a sensible choice when you consider that she’s an avid rider herself.

So far, Harley’s campaign to entice lady bikers appears to be working: Over 27,000 women attended the “Garage Party” events, and 3,000 “lady bikes,” including the Dyna Low Rider, Sportster 883 and Softail Deluxe, were purchased in March, the first month of promotions. The company will continue to host parties across the U.S., hopefully leading to continued profit.

Harley’s tale may be an example of a company with a traditionally male customer base that finds great success by a expanding to the female market. The company’s recent increase in sales has already gotten notice in the mainstream media, and among female bikers, Harley-Davidson now has a 53% market-share lead. And other companies are catching on: Skol, another male-oriented company, recently launched its own female-focused anti-bloating beer campaign in May.