The vice president of Harley-Davidson's regional operations talks about building on successes in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Middle East a different market, as Harley already has the youth segment
Harley-Davidson may be courting the younger generation in Europe and North America but it's a different story here in the Middle East; particularly because the younger generation is already the bike brand's biggest market, according to Rob Lindley, Harley's vice president and managing director of Harley-Davidson Europe, Middle East and Africa (Emea).
"In North America, we have over a 50 per cent share of the big bike market, and it's quite saturated," says Lindley. "There has been a focus there on different rider groups; young riders, women riders, African-American and Hispanic. We actually sell more Harleys to young riders than any other brand in America, so it's still the market leader in that market space [of 35 and under]."
Lindley adds: "Our core customer base in North America is the 40 to 50 range. But here in the GCC it's totally different; we already have a core base of young riders. Our sweet spot is around 30 to 40.
"Contemplating on why that would be, it's a younger country; people in that age group are more affluent than in other markets, so I think there is more disposable income.
"So it's not an especial point of focus to target young riders because we have a more of a balanced spread in our portfolio anyway."
Indeed, when compared with the more mature markets, Lindley's area of concern is a relatively new one, but doing quite well. While he can't give exact sales figures (with Harley being on the stock market, he is not allowed to divulge the particulars), he says that the Middle East market for Harley-Davidson is on the rise.
"We're actually having a really good year. Our first quarter growth in Europe was 20 per cent and, to be fair, a part of that was availability driven. When we started last year, we had factory shutdowns as we were winding out of the financial crisis. We started that year very lean on product, but this year we've started with much better availability and we've taken advantage of that.
"Year to date, across Emea as a whole, is about 17 per cent now; and in the Mena [Middle East and Africa] market we're at 19 per cent."
Part of this increase in sales is because of a new outlook for the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company. Because the US and Europe are so saturated, Harley has, in the last few years, expanded its reach around the world to fresher markets. That not only means partnering with new dealerships in places such as India and Russia, but setting up local offices as well.
In February, the company moved the branch that covers Middle East operations from Cape Town to Dubai; currently operating out of temporary offices, it will soon move into a permanent set-up in Almas Towers with plans for a Harley-inspired cafe.
"What we needed to do is have local people based in the market that understand the local market issues and understand the regulations and deal with those issues," says Lindley.
Saudi Arabia is by far Harley's biggest market in the GCC, with the UAE second. To cultivate the market further, the company has a two-step strategy.
"In the last couple of years, one of the things that has been a big part of our growth - and not just here but all around the world - has been some of the new products we've introduced," Lindley said. "In the Sportster family, the Iron 883 and the 48, in particular, have become really strong leading sellers for us. And this market wasn't particularly a strong market for those ... but the smaller bikes have become massive for us.
"The 48 is very cool looking - design is very important for Harley. Obviously, from a pricing point, it's accessible. And, people just love that retro style. We'll sell maybe 5,000 of those this year in Mena. It's a big number for us."
But Harley is not just about the bikes themselves; lifestyle has always been part of what draws people onto a Harley-Davidson, and the company recognises this.
"A big part of what we're doing is a lot of social networking. The experience has always been a huge part of what we sell; it's a lot more than just a motorcycle, it's events and festivities. There will be an increased focus on having events, that's for sure.
"In North America and Europe, it's a big part of our marketing mix, but it's been a little bit slower in development here, but we're changing that."
Part of that strategy involves bringing Harley riders together on a grand scale, such as the European Bike Week in Austria or the Sturgis Bike Week in the US - events that draw hundreds of thousands of bikers every year. While remaining hush on details, Lindley says plans for a similar event are in the works for the GCC. Already, there are Hog rallies held all over the Mena region, but these are on a much smaller scale and move from country to country.
"Typically, you're better off staying in one location for a few years," Lindley says. "What you want is to develop participation from the local community; then the local tourist offices and business tend to provide sponsorship and that works best to stay in one place for a while."