Media, Marketing & Common Sense ONDO MEDIA | Production & Consulting | Columbus, Ohio.

What a church can learn from Harley-Davidson

I like cars. Classic cars and fun cars. I have a ’91 Miata, if you rolled your eyes, that tells me you’ve never driven one on a sunny day. I have to admit though I’ve alway wanted a motorcycle. I love the attitude, the freedom and individual style that bikes have over cars.

A Guy Walks into a Harley Store

A while back my wife and I were staying in a hotel in West Virginia next to a Harley-Davidson store. The store was having an event with a band and food, and I said lets take a look. Now despite my interest in motorcycles, I’ve never darkened the door of a Harley-Davidson store. First, I don’t have tattoos. I don’t own any leather vests or pants. My beard doesn’t go down to my chest. And finally, I drive a red ’91 Miata. Despite these issues, I appreciate the brand and the culture of Harleys, so I went in. I looked around and found myself near a model bike that if I had the money I’d would consider. But there was very little in the way of information about the bike. I know nothing about motorcycle drivetrains, brakes or maintenance. Up walks a guy my age, with all the Harley clothes and a name tag telling me he was the sales guy I feared to meet. He’s going to ask if I have a bike, or what CC or something it has, and then I’ll have to tell him I own the Miata in the parking lot.

I’m not a Harley guy, but I am welcome to come at any point and be one.

The sales guy asked, “Got any questions on the bike?” I, of course, do what I always do as a filmmaker, interviewer, and connoisseur of customer service, I told him my story. “I like bikes, but I know nothing about them, I may never buy one, I’m a car guy, but I just love how these bikes are crafted.” Now I waited for his response. Will you blow me off? Will you treat me like an idiot or overwhelm me with too much information that I can’t absorb? The salesman’s response was “John I am so glad you came in today to look at our bikes and ask some questions, what would you like to know?” What a perfect response. I asked him to compare horsepower in a car to a bike. If a car is a high mileage at 100,000 what would a bike’s be? He treated every question like it was the best he’d ever heard, which I’m sure he has answered every day for years. When I was done, he repeated, John I’m so glad you came in today, and you are always welcome to stop in any of our stores if you want to take the next step and check a bike out. I left that Harley-Davidson store with a smile. I’m not a Harley guy, but I am welcome to come at any point and be one.

I constantly think about that experience and hope that if that’s representative of all Harley salesman, then no wonder so many people buy these big expensive machines. As a media consultant to many churches, it made me think that as intimidated as I was to go into a Harley store and they were able to make me feel at home, is there something we learn about how we should treat first-time guests at our church?

The Test

I’d like to ask Pastors (who most I know are obsessed with motorcycles) and those who are part of the First Contact, Assimilation, Greeter or whatever you call it, teams to try this simple exercise. I’d like you to replace the name of your church with Harley-Davidson Store. I’d like you to replace any clever church titles of your staff or team with Harley-Davidson Owners, and so forth. I believe when you do this, it may help you to troubleshoot any issues you’re having with returning visitors.


  1. Will someone who has never been to your Harley-Davidson store feel intimidated because of how everyone dresses and the culture because you never dress like that during the week?
  2. Before anyone says hello will a Harley-Davidson owner ask for the visitor to give you their email and phone number so they can receive Harley-Davidson more promotional information?
  3. When talking to a visitor do you begin asking about their motorcycle history? “Have you ridden a Harley before? Oh you use to have a Yamaha, that’s not a real motorcycle.” or judge them because they may own a Prius.
  4. Does the General Manager ask the crowd in the store “Would all those first time Harley-Davidson visitors, please stand up? We have a lovely bag of Harley-Davidson scented candles, and a CD of Harley-Davidson sounds to give you. And later this week two of our Harley-Davidson owners will come and visit your home to see how you’re doing!”
  5. If the visitor was hurt once or lost a loved one riding a Harley-Davidson bike and they’re confused needing answers like “Why would the safest bike in the world kill my friend? I came today to find answers.” Will you listen or just blow them off that they will never buy a bike because they have issues.

I hope you laughed at some of those comparisons. Before you toss this aside saying “John you cannot compare the demographics of our target audience for a church to Harley-Davidson owners”! Please read these stats from a 2013 BrandonGaille.com article and realize that both churches and Harley-Davidson are trying desperately to reach millennials.

  • Across all demographics, women are 7 times more likely to purchase a Harley Davidson.
  • Harley Davidson sold 4 times the amount of motorcycles to the 18-34 age demographic in 2013 than their nearest competitor.
  • African Americans are 5 times more likely to purchase a Harley Davidson than they are a competitor’s brand.

 

Final observation

The men and women at these stores LOVE their bikes. It is part of their DNA. It’s their culture. They can’t wait to tell you about the freedom and joy their bikes bring them. Does your team at the front door have that passion? Don’t just throw people into those greeting position because they have a nice smile. Make sure they love their journey with Christ, and can ask with a confident smile;  “I’m so glad you came in today what questions can I answer?”

Do some research this weekend at the local Harley-Davidson. I received no payment for this article from Harley-Davidson unfortunately.


John Ondo is a three-time Emmy Award Winning Documentary Filmmaker & Author. His production company, Ondo Media, creates commercial & documentary films and media programs for emerging churches. Based in Columbus, Ohio, John Ondo, can be followed on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and our Ondo Media Vimeo site. You can also get his book “How To Avoid A Media Meltdown” at Amazon.Com or at the Ondo Media Bookstore.

  1. 1 Comment

    • Phil Cooke says:

      Excellent post John. Harley does a brilliant job with their brand. So much so that I was at a wedding in Palm Springs a few years ago, while the city was also hosting a motorcycle rally. I started a conversation with a biker who told me Harley owners were the last independent thinkers on the planet. They were individualistic, unique, and weren’t owned or influenced by anyone. The problem was, he said that while dressed in a Harley branded jacket, headband, leather pants, scarf, belt, gloves, and sitting on a Harley. The brilliance is that they they believe they’re actually individual thinkers and loners, when all the while they worship at the Harley brand.

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