I’m giving a very informal (there was beer involved) guided tour of the Sturgis rally to several Wall Street bigshots, to give them a real taste of what this whole motorcycle thing is all about and let them see what several hundred thousand Harley riders in the same place at the same time looks like. I’d complained to several of them for years that they’d never be able to truly understand our business sitting behind their cushy desks in New York, so I was glad they’d taken me up on the offer to get upclose and personal with this stuff. Two showed up wearing dress pants and loafers and were a tad worried that they might not “fit in.” Wall Street guys made to feel uncomfortable? Ooops. Sorry. Not.
We were drooling over hundreds of one-of-a-kind customs at the Ride-In Show (bike customizers show off their best stuff and compete for trophies; a very big deal in custom bike circles) and I introduced the money folks to some of the judges. I mentioned off-handed that each of the judges was an employee at HD with a very solid background in bikes. One of the analysts said, “What do these people do for a living at HD?” and I pointed to two guys, Louis Netz and Ray Drea, and said that they worked in the Styling Department (Louis was styling god Willie G. Davidson’s right hand man for over 30 years and Ray’s still tearing it up now).
They didn’t give me much of a reaction, so I said something along the lines of, “Let me help you get the significance of what I just said. The primary responsibility of these two guys is to come up with new bike ideas and styling concepts that keep the Harley-Davidson product line distinct and beautiful. And here they are looking at this year’s crop of the most beautiful custom bikes on the planet, down to the most minute detail. How can what they’re seeing here not find its way onto their sketch pads and possibly serve as inspiration for future products?” Then I pointed to some other judges, saying, “And those guys over there head up Parts and Accessories teams. Get the picture? Could there be a better way to get new product ideas? This is what we mean when we say we’re in touch with our riders and what’s happening on the street and with or sport in ways our competitors can’t match.”
One dude shook his head in amazement and said, “That’s genius!” And I said, “Nah, genius takes brain power. This is just common sense.”
Another guy asked, “Does anyone ever enter a Japanese bike in the contest?” I said, “No more beer for you.”