Harley To Woo Women At South Dakota Rally

Harley-Davidson plans to market to women at one of the most important motorcycle events in the country next month. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, at which tens of thousands converge on a small town in South Dakota for a week in early August, is a critical marketing venture for the Milwaukee company, which uses the event to, among other things, let consumers test ride its new models.

This year, for the first time, the company will launch a series of events specifically for women. Harley-Davidson will have a booth serving as kiosk for women-centric activities being held at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, August 4-11, as well as a "women's day," which will feature women-only demos, seminars and special guests.

The company says women represent one in 10 U.S. motorcycle riders and account for nearly 12% of new Harley-Davidson motorcycle purchases.

According to the most recent statistics from the Motorcycle Industry Council, the percentage of female motorcycle owners increased from 8.2% in 1998 to 9.6% in 2003, or from 467,400 owners to 635,000. The number of female motorcycle operators--owners or not--increased by a much higher 34%, from 3,223,000 to 4,304,000 in that period, per the council. The Irvine, Calif.-based group says the median age increased from 38 in 1998 to 42 in 2003, with 28% of female operators holding a college or post-graduate degree.



The women's day will feature women-only demo rides of Harley-Davidson and Buell motorcycles; a meet-and-greet with Karen Davidson, the great-granddaughter of the co-founder of the company; accessories and rider gear seminars, and other events.

According to statistics from the town of Sturgis, about 50% of attendees are 41-53 years of age. About 72% of survey respondents during the 2005 rally were male. The Sturgis Rally Department says about half a million people attend the rally during the week, although the organization expects attendance may be down this year because of gasoline prices.

Paul James, director of product communications at Harley-Davidson, says H-D has a marketing presence at hundreds of motorcycle events in the U.S., including Bike Week in Daytona Beach, Fla., but that "Sturgis is special in that when we launch new products, it's the first time customers get a chance to see [them]."

The rally itself, to which the majority of attendees ride Harley-Davidson bikes, is expanding to include pre- and post-rally programs, per James, who says the company has begun holding its own events, including demo rides earlier.

James says besides offering test-rides of new models to attendees, Harley-Davidson also holds an indoor show in Rapid City, S.D., featuring the new motorcycles, parts and accessories, branded clothes, tech displays, and motorcycle cutaways.

Although the vast majority of motorcycles at Sturgis are Harley-Davidsons, the company doesn't "own" the event. Other sponsors include Snap-On, Jack Daniels, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and the National Pork Board.

"For us, Sturgis is a way to interact with our customers," says James, who added that last year the company held a promotion with its Rider's Edge rider-education program called "Saddle Up for Sturgis," in which non-riding women could submit essays about why they wanted to get a motorcycle license and do the ride to Sturgis. Winners took the Rider's Edge course gratis and rode with company executives to the rally.

James says that Harley-Davidson advertising focuses on product and tends not to show riders. However, he says the company pitched women in a recent advertisement showing a woman putting makeup on, using the reflection in the chrome of a motorcycle. The headline read: "Do this, do that, don't do this, don't do that, blah, blah, blah."

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