Thursday, October 22, 2009

Restructuring at Harley Davidson

We learned this week that Harley Davidson will be shutting down its Buell sport bike division and begin searching for a buyer for its MV Agusta brand of expensive sport bikes built in Italy (a brand they only acquired 16 months ago). The news should not shock us, as Harley has always been primarily a heavyweight cruiser/touring bike company. Its competencies revolved around that primary segment, and it created value largely through its enormous brand equity and consumer loyalty. The core cruiser business has been in decline with the economic downturn, while also facing a longer term threat due to the aging of the company's core customers. Refocusing on the core seems like a sensible strategy, given that Buell was consistently not delivering the necessary return on investment.

Of course, we might ask why Harley chose a multi-brand strategy, given the incredible attachment to the core Harley brand. The answer, I believe, is that Harley wanted to pursue growth, and thus moved to the sport bike segment...but it wanted to be cautious about alienating its core customers. Therefore, it was hesitant about extending the Harley brand to the sport segment. That led to the Buell strategy. Now, it has decided to divest these other brands, as it tries to concentrate its resources on bolstering the Harley brand.

To be sure, the company must cater to its core customers, while also trying to entice younger buyers. The critical question: Can it lure younger buyers in larger numbers without alienating any of its Baby Boomer consumers?

1 comment:

Brian said...

Pretty hard to claim adding lines in the same core industry as an effective "diversification" strategy, particularly when each line falls in the luxury/discretionary class. Harley may have fooled themselves into believing their story was more about management and marketing know how than it was about nostalgia and accumulated brand equity. Building a new brand from the ground up is not easy to do, particularly when your company is already percieved a certain way.

There are better margins in selling Harley t-shirts anyway!