From a Women’s and Dealership Perspective Vicki Gray is Timeless
For over thirty-three years the timeless Vicki Gray has been “hawking bikes.” Relentless in her efforts to make a positive impact on the sports we love, the always approachable, likeable and energetic Vicki Gray seems to make time for everyone. Vicki has a natural ease about herself that one might not know she is the President of South Sound and South Bound Honda, is a founding board member to the Washington Off-Highway Vehicle Alliance (WOHVA), sits on the Powersports Advisory Board to Honda and chairs its parts and service committee.
Given recent events, it only felt appropriate that we get perspective from a woman and dealership owner.
Interview by Ben Janin
Vicki from a historical perspective can you give us a little background on your career?
I started out in Port Townsend as a parts and sales person at a small Honda dealership. Later on I moved on to work for a couple dealers as a parts person, before settling down at Brothers Powersports for about ten years as their accessory manager.
I was lucky to get into our sports during this time because I had access to a lot of great mentors who have sense passed. Mentors like John Wycoff, Hine Garrick, Ed Lemco and Judie Pratt. Judie Pratt was not only an owner of the first dealership that I worked at, but also a genuine enthusiast who loved motorcycles. I learned a lot from Ed Lemco on how to run a dealership, the sales, parts and service. He wrote an actual manual on how to run a dealership and he did training as well, it was so impactful.
For the last twenty-two years I have served as President to South Bound Honda, before taking on South Sound Honda thirteen years ago. Jeff has been our business partner during that span, and I have learned a lot from him. It takes a team and he does his does his role well.
Most recently I have been part of the Powersports Advisory Board to Honda. I chair the parts and service committee. This has been a great and satisfying experience for me! We are working across the country soliciting the best practices to dealerships, and then work with corporate Honda in developing policy and or / programs that will help all dealers be more successful.
For instance, dealers need technicians now more then ever. This was a job description that was hit hard by the recession. We have had preliminary discussions on developing a training and mentoring program for entry-level technicians through Honda’s training center. We aim to go beyond the traditional path of education and we are opening jobs for those that want to come into the industry right now.
Give us a status update on the powersports industry.
Well, it’s definitely stumbling, its having difficulty engaging the younger audience. This is an audience that is accustomed to quick satisfaction and one that has typically not been exposed to a lot of risk.
While dirt bikes provide a great entry point for young people and motocross is very popular. Motocross is getting to be a pretty exclusive club, one that takes a lot of money and one that could be perceived as risky.
Luckily our dealerships have a brand that appeals to the younger audience. It’s important to make this generation feel that it’s a safe mode of transportation and a great way to see our countryside.
I have a great story worth sharing. A couple years back this young kid from Brazil shows up right here at our dealership doorstep. He shows up on this little 125 Honda that he has ridden all the way up from Brazil and he is on his way to Alaska!
This new generation likes to do things and be adventuresome. They understand that their journeys will help form them. We have the opportunity to show them ‘that a bike will do that much’, and it will help form them. Oh the places you will go!
Our country is big and has lots to see, and so here is this kid that shows up on our doorstep with his tiny bike and with one little suitcase; a 1960’s style suitcase.
One suitcase. One little Honda. One giant sized adventure.
How is the industry going to pull itself out of this rut?
It’s going to be tough! But I do like the Motorcycle Industry Council’s (MIC) new proposal introducing young people to our sports at events to which they attend. Such as monster truck, NASCAR, music festivals and other party type events.
At these events there will be a locker room full of motorcycle gear and an entry-level or mid-level bike, depending upon rider experience, that an attendee will have the opportunity to ride. This is a great way to introduce or reintroduce the sport of motorcycling to a target audience.
Given that 85% of the household purchases are decided by the women, as a woman, mother and dealership owner what advise can you give the industry, and us men, fathers and husbands?
The dealerships will get the sale if they do following:
- Recognize the women
- Pay attention to what the wives and moms are saying.
- Make sure that the women are absolutely part of the buying process.
Basically, bottom line; treat others how you want to be treated. If you come across like she doesn’t know anything it most likely will not result in a sale. In today’s world, a woman might come walking in knowing a lot already. Even if she doesn’t know, teach her how to get that education. Don’t treat a woman like a child; she wants to be part of experience.
It’s important for men to share with their wives that motorcycling is a genuine interest that they really need to have. Everybody needs to have an outlet to release the stress in his or her lives and as your spouse this is an important thing to support.
One step further and perhaps better is to get your spouse on a bike! These days our lives and family budgets are so busy. If you want the time and money to go riding as an individual and as a family, get mom on a bike. Getting her the individualized attention sharing with her that motorcycling is an important activity for you as a man and for all of us as family, that’s where the secret sauce is.
The next step is absolutely critical! When you finally get your spouse on a bike. Do not push them to hard! I see it time and time again, men telling their wives that they need a bigger bike. But they are afraid of a bigger bike. Don’t tell them what to do, let them buy what they are comfortable with.
And take them to a place that they know they can enjoy the sport responsibly and safely. Don’t scare the living daylights out of your wife; we typically are not the risk takers.
These days our peers are doing this and doing that, and there are so many things pulling at us now. The whole calendar is full and everyone is vying for our attention. The family has the opportunity to decide what is their passion, what do they want to do as a family.
Look at a lot of motocross of life, the mom is so important! The mom is all about the family making sure that everyone is fed and taken care of.
What feedback can you give on the Plus 1 initiative?
The Plus 1 initiative is great! It helps create a two way street between our customers and the dealership. As a dealership, over the years, we have always done a lot of consumer engagement through little rides that we have put on. But this is great, now when our customers go riding they invite someone.
Often a wife will come into the dealership and she is not yet comfortable. But when our customers take Plus 1 camping and they bring their little bike, the wife comes back to the dealership with a smile.
Outside influence from the dealer is so important. The users are the ones buying the product. They are often the ones that are sharing the bikes, helmets, gear and most importantly the experience. For our community and industry to benefit, the users are going to have to take part. It’s going to take a joint effort.
For a dealership to get customers hooked on motorcycling there are little things that we can do so the experience is not so overwhelming. Interstate 5 is not the destination. Help your new customers find places to go riding, quiet places with minimal distractions and start them on smaller bikes.
There was a time that we did regular social activities at the dealership, like watching the supercross races. That’s something that has simmered out over the years, but perhaps we have the opportunity to revisit this. Maybe we can get going this spring and have an activity once a month.
What are your thoughts that Harley Davidson’s has promoted a woman from Senior Vice President to Chief Operating Officer?
This is absolutely a good thing. It’s been a long time coming. It has always been a struggle, as a female, to be recognized as an expert and to be respected for my knowledge. There should not be any gender barriers, but there has been. It’s great to see that a woman of this caliber is finally recognized.
What three things would you advise any person to do if they intend to work in the industry?
Be passionate about the sport by being involved! This can be done in a number of ways. Such as riding with a group of you’re friends and sharing the adventure of motorcycling, or by spending time at the local motocross or road-race tracks. Being an ambassador and being involved is a must for the industry. I have met some of my very best and lifelong friends by working in this industry.
Work hard! One of the lessons I learned early on is work as if you owned the place because someday you might! We all have to work hard to accomplish more with less in today’s market, but hard work and the willingness to change always pays off in the long run.
And the last but probably the most important thing is to remember to treat customers like you would want to be treated. These people come to our stores to get the latest info and to find fun stuff to enjoy their sport. It is their stress release and escape from the everyday grind and it’s our job to show them how cool our products are and how taking a ride on a motorcycle will enhance our lives for the better.
What are parting words for the audience?
Don’t be afraid to have fun! Get out there and enjoy life to the fullest. Work hard and play hard. It has always worked for me.