The partnership between manufacturers and dealers can have a profound effect on the consumer – from the type of machines on offer to spares availability and add-ons like clothing and accessories. Ian Kerr MBE explains…
WHEN MOST of us are looking for a bike, either for work or pleasure, we primarily decide on which is the most suitable for our needs and obviously one which fits within our price bracket. The manufacturer or brand is normally secondary unless we have built up some sort of allegiance due to a history with them.
A lot of things will have contributed to this – the models produced probably being the primary one – but, in the main, it will have been based on the service you will have received from the dealer. Good servicing, spares availability, add-ons like clothing and accessories and above all else, how they actually treat you as a customer on a day-to-day basis.
Now while you may be aware that some manufacturers use mystery shoppers to check that their franchisees are adhering to agreed standards, in addition to the feedback from their area sales managers when they pay a visit, you may not know that there is a regular survey on how the manufacturers treat their dealers.
Although you may not see this as being relevant ‘on the street’, it can have a bearing on what brands are available to you locally and how far you have to travel to buy a particular machine.
Every six months the National Motorcycle Dealers Association (NMDA) sends out a survey to its members to see how they rate their relationships with the manufacturer.
It tends to throw up some interesting results, with some manufacturers getting quite a good kicking in the various categories surveyed, and it shows that the relationship between the two camps is at times strained, due to the sales pressure applied by the manufacturers.
While the manufacturers tend to occasionally dismiss the results, stating only those with a grievance complete the survey, they do have to take notice. Because without the dealer network they would have to take on direct selling.
Kawasaki is one such manufacturer that is already preparing to dip its toe in the market directly, having recently announced that it will be opening a new self-funded dealership in Greenham Common to use as a training academy.
However, this has met with a lot of resentment within the trade, with dealers feeling the new store will get preferential deals and discounts – despite the big K stating it will have to run as a normal dealership and will stock other brands in the used bike section as well as alternative clothing brands.
The reason they are doing this is that land and property is now so expensive that starting up a business, or even just moving premises, can be prohibitive. As a result there are many areas in the UK where Kawasaki, as well as other brands, have no coverage, as there is only so much money available to start up dealers using finance from a manufacturer in the first instance.
So, certainly in the near future at least, local dealers will remain. Some may be forced to move to out-of-town locations but, in the main, will be accessible on a day-to-day basis. But, what of their life with the manufacturer?
Well, according to the latest survey, when asked how they rate their franchise, Harley come close to scoring a perfect ten – nearly two points clear of Lexmoto with BMW in third place. The Japanese, on the other hand, did not fair so well, with Yamaha being the first of the ‘big four’ in sixth place, just ahead of Ducati. Honda is rock bottom, scoring less than half of the points!
When you look through a sample of a dozen questions asked, which includes items like; profitability, supply times to the dealer, fairness in day-to-day dealings, realistic standards and targets and bonus for sales, the Japanese manufacturers scored poorly. This is somewhat surprising when you look at the amount of dealers selling their products up and down the United Kingdom.
You might suggest that the premium brands with a smaller number of dealers have less to go wrong and things are easier to manage, but in the previous survey, six months ago, BMW took a very big kicking. As a result they made adjustments and have since moved back up the ratings, showing a massive improvement in many areas. This is exactly the reason why the NMDA see the survey as an important tool for trying to strike a sensible balance between the two camps.
As with any survey though you need to compare current results with historical data to see any trends and, maybe, look at recalls and model line-ups compared to other manufacturers. Broken down in the various sectors it does make interesting reading and shows how model ranges affect sales and, when sales drop, the manufacturers do seem to push harder with targets.
So what has any of this got to do with you the consumer, the person who actually buys the bike?
Well if the dealer does not have a good relationship with the manufacturer they may well change allegiance, or alternatively take early retirement, bearing in mind many have been around a good few years and remember the ‘good old days’.
So, ultimately, all the research that consumers do to find a bike to suit their needs may be in vain as you might have to travel miles to buy it. Similarly, as home maintenance is now almost a thing of the past, you may have to travel equally as far for each service.
Some might say this is fine as thanks to the internet they can find the best deal. Furthermore, they might conclude that a few extra miles is a small price to pay when they might save hundreds of pounds.
But, the motorcycle world is still a bit like the supermarket scenario. We all want to buy cheap, but still want the village shop when we forget to buy a pint of milk. So it is worth sparing a thought for your local dealer. They are under pressure from the punter who wants the best deal, but they are also under pressure from the manufacturer in many ways.
My advice is, if you have good one – support them. After all, whenever you have flat and need a new tyre on Saturday for work on Monday, they have always been there to help you out!