The marketing manager for Harley-Davidson in the Mena region discusses her role and how female riders are increasing finding their way into the driving seat.
Harley-Davidson bikers born to be hog wild
Elsa Abinader, from Lebanon but based in Dubai, is the marketing manager of Harley-Davidson Middle East and North Africa. She speaks here about her job, the new line-up of bikes for 2014, and the growing number of female riders.
Can you describe your job?
I will have worked for Harley for three years in October. I work for the Harley-Davidson Motor Company subsidiary office and we represent the motor company from the US in the Middle East and North Africa. We don’t sell bikes directly; we have partners called dealerships that sell the bikes or the merchandise for us. We represent the brand. We have a team over here that takes care of everything related to the dealership. We have people to get the bikes here, to take care of the brand’s standards, to open dealerships and make sure they are servicing our customers well. Then you have me taking care of the marketing and communications - seeing what [the dealerships] are doing for activities and events and how they are representing us.
You were previously at Galeries Lafayette. What made you want to work for Harley-Davidson?
I felt like a change, I like the brand. Back at that time my husband was buying his first Harley and I was involved in all that process of choosing the bike, the clothing. So I got excited when I heard that Harley was opening a new office. I applied and got the job.
How did you start riding?
I took some courses. Then after I took my licence I had some training with [Harley Owners Group at] training schools in the UK and in Bahrain, where our dealer has a training school to reinforce my riding skills. I started off on a Sportster, an Iron 883, and then maybe a year later I upgraded to a Softail Slim. We have seen a growth in women learning to ride and getting their own bikes instead of getting on the back of their husband or boyfriend or friend’s bike. There are about 100-plus women riders in the Mena region.
What’s the demand like for Harley-Davidson bikes in the Middle East?
We’re seeing growth in all the regional countries and the UAE and the brand is doing well. The first dealership in Mena opened back in 1989 - so 24 years ago - in Dubai. Then 10 years later Kuwait followed. We are present now in 11 counties and we have 15 dealerships across the region. There is growing demand. Our most recent [dealership opening] was in Algeria and then we have Fujairah coming in Q4 of 2013.
I understand you have just unveiled your new 2014 line-up.
The big news is Project Rushmore, a complete transformation of the touring platform. We improved all the bikes and every aspect of the riding experience on four main levels: control of the bike, how it feels, style and infotainment. We introduced a CVO Softail Delux that’s new to the platform. All Sportsters come with ABS, so that’s a new introduction. There is a bike called Fat Bob which has new styling. The dealers are excited to see these changes, this is a major happening and because there are many things new to the biking industry. On the weekend of October 24 to 27 dealers will reveal the new bikes to their customers in the region. As well as the open house we do a charity event on that day. This is the third edition and we partner with the World Food Programme from the UN and along with the [presentation of the new bikes] we organise a short parade of bikes. We sell a pin for around Dh50 or Dh60 and all the proceeds from the pin - it’s collectable, you keep as a souvenir - go towards the WFP. Last year we raised around US$25,000 across Mena.
What models sell well here?
In this region, because we have a lot of new riders, people tend to buy Sportsters to start off with then upgrade to other bikes. Sportsters are the most popular then six months to a year later, like I did, everybody upgrades. When you ride well and you want to do long distances and go with somebody on the back to be more comfortable you buy a bigger bike the touring models.