Ideahaus helped a local Harley-Davidson dealership build a custom e-commerce presence and increase their market share to become “The biggest single source for all your Harley stuff!”
The Sanford’s are a true American biker family. At 6’4”, with a full beard and assorted tattoos, former Hell’s Angel Terry Sanford (aka “Bouncer”) is a leather-clad giant. Donna Sanford, whose mother used to ride motorcycles at the infamous Blood Bar in D.C., passed the riding passion on to her daughters, Honey and Spirit. For the Sanfords, motorcycles are a way of life and the source of their livelihood operating Spirit Harley-Davidson, a full-service dealership and retail store in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania.
Spirit Harley-Davidson was designed to be the Disneyland of Harley shops: a showroom of new bikes, a warehouse full of used bikes, a service center with 6 bays, a multi-department retail store (including a Pets section) and two storage buildings used for parts and equipment that doubled as an entertainment venue during social events. The 65,000 square-foot orange and black buildings spanning 4-acres were an unmistakable beacon to every passerby familiar with the brand.
The Sanford’s passion for motorcycles was enough to start the business but not enough to drive profits. Western Pennsylvania, where their business was located, has the most Harley-Davidson dealers per capita in the United States. Organized by zip codes, 8 dealers surrounded Spirit Harley. As the brand grew, neighboring dealerships challenged Spirit Harley-Davidson’s customer base at every opportunity. When Spirit organized a ride, so would another dealership. When Spirit ran a promotion, another would mirror. To up the ante, the Sanford’s created a free website using a template provided by Yellow Pages as part of their annual advertising. Since none of their competitors had tried e-commerce yet, Terry and his family hoped it would be the big break they were looking for. With their best efforts, they created the first dealer website in the area and generated an additional $20,000 in annual revenue. Still, little changed in the showroom.
On his way into work one morning, Terry saw me sitting in the service department — laptop resting on my legs, palm pilot in one hand, phone in the other. Terry’s mechanics were in the process of doing the 500-mile service inspection on my new V-Rod, and I was catching up on my work while I waited.
“You know anything about computers?”
I looked up from my laptop, way up, and saw Terry standing over me. I told him that I did, and he asked me if I could take a look at something for him. Thinking that it was always a good idea to make nice with the owner of a service you use, I agreed (and like I was going to tell Terry “no”).
His network was down, his employees were locked out of their computers, and he needed it fixed. I told him I’d take a look at it and see what I could do. Over the next few days, with the help of an Ideahaus programmer, we fixed his network, got all of his employees back into their computers, and a thankful Terry said that he would call us the next time they had computer problems. I laughed, said “thank you” but told him that’s not really what we do.
Making some assumptions on his points of reference, I said, “We do advertising, marketing, promotions, web sites – stuff like that.”
“You fixed my computers, maybe you can help with some other things around here?”
We scheduled a meeting that day with Donna and Honey, the brains to Terry’s brawn, to discuss their business marketing and communications. We talked about their goals as a business and the challenges they faced in breaking away from the competition. Over the next couple of hours, we learned a lot about Spirit Harley-Davidson, but we also learned that each family member had their own unique vision for the shop. In true family form, they couldn’t come to an agreement on what they should do with their business, or how to move forward. Honey pushed for an emphasis on e-commerce, which meant a redesign of their current site, and Donna eventually agreed.
Reminiscent of a classic biker t-shirt, an illustrated biker on a bike with babe in tow overlooked the city of Pittsburgh on a black background, represented the Harley-Davidson dealership. The large white navigation didn’t offer much to users, and the store was cumbersome, at best, to use. Donna had done an admirable job with limited HTML experience, but the website did not reflect the grandeur of their physical business or the Sanfords.
We took the family and staff through HomeWerk, the Ideahaus web site planning methodology. Everyone shared their two-cents. We did our research and presented a plan that everyone understood for moving forward.
We based the navigation on the physical business: Bike Sales, Rentals, Retail, Parts, and Service. Since Spirit Harley was known for their active riding schedule, we added an event calendar so that riders could plan, well in advance, travel arrangements, service appointments, new tires, and new product purchases.
We designed the site using the resources provided to every Harley dealership, but included samples of the architectural elements of the building, like the steel siding and diamond plate, to bring visitors online what visitors had on-site.
Three fixed web cams shared the new bikes on the showroom floor (changed daily), the activity of the service center, and the social gatherings on the benches outside (a favorite gathering spot for customers and staff alike). A fourth wireless camera, dubbed the “mystery cam” would show off a different part of the facility every day.
Although located in Glenshaw, Spirit sponsored the Pittsburgh H.O.G. (Harley Owner’s Group) Chapter, and their trading zone included all of the Pittsburgh zip codes. Strategically, Ideahaus repositioned Spirit as the “Pittsburgh” dealership, which greatly diminished the surrounding dealerships due to their suburban references. Spirit would now be the city’s Harley dealer, and the positioning statement developed by creative services was a forecast for things to come: “Spirit Harley-Davidson. The biggest single source for all your Harley stuff.”
The site went live, and the cameras rolled as we waited for the US Postal Service to deliver 24,000 post cards announcing our new web site to the mailing list Donna had built from her riding schedule.
Then it happened. One viewer on the web cam, then two, then five, then 25. People watched what was going on at the dealership. The phone rang – it was one of the regular customers – and asked Donna to wave at the camera. She did, we laughed, and the phone rang again. It was a guy asking about a bike he saw on the showroom floor. The salesman who got the call sold it two days later. We received the first e-commerce order, a $350 purchase from a customer that had never bought from Spirit before, on the second day.
Ideahaus’ redesign of Spirit Harley-Davidson’s web site generated almost $100,000 in annual sales – five times as much as it had before. It helped Spirit become a communications hub for the motorcycle community, promoting event and riding schedules in advance, while supplying pictures, video and a platform for comments afterwards. Attendance for their Open House grew from 1,500 to more than 5,000, and Harley-Davidson reported an increase in Spirit’s market share from 47% to 61% – attracting customers from other dealerships, as well as converting other owners to the Harley brand.
For the first time, the Sanfords had a shop that matched their family: larger than life. – kp
Category: Client Stories