Milwaukee-Home of the Harley

Milwaukee-Home of the Harley

As I dwell in Milwaukee……..Home of the Harley!Bill Keitel

At the age of 15 I started working at a music store in my home town.

Even though it was a small town it serviced an area 100 miles in all directions.

The local community had no concept of its importance.

The music store that I worked for sold “big band” equipment to garage bands and emerging regional bands throughout the midwest.

Part of their equipment line included Fender and Vox Amplifiers (1967), Vox was endorsed by an emerging group called the Beatles.

The music store sold so much of this band equipment that the Vox Company sent the “Vox Mobile” (a George Barris funny car) to further endorse this small music store.

As an employee of this music store I was hired to give guitar lessons, sell records and eventually build “big band” speaker boxes for an emerging “hard rock” guitar market.

They were extra large speaker cabinets that would shake the foundations of buildings within a city block of any venue.

They were used far and wide, from Kansas City to Fargo and beyond.

These were heady times and we were all driven by the seat of our pants.

I met all of the “nearly” famous bands and guitarists”….all the time while I was working there.

I was given an envelope that was filled with $125.00 cash (I was making good money at $28 dollar per week) , that was big money in 1967.

I took the bosses car and was sent to a bank that was 45 miles away.

The bank would then fill out a cashiers check so we could pay “cash on delivery” for the latest 45 records and 33 & 1/3 albums.

The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, Elvis Presley and Zager and Evans…in the year 2525.

There was money to be made.

The owner was filled with wild ambition and alas, he over reached his financial boundaries and needed to be “reined in”.

Thinking back …it took me an additional year (upon the insistence of my parents) to get my final pay check from him.

I had been away at college without having settled on what I was due.

Alas, the store was a small mid west phenomenon.

The curious part of this post/childhood adventure was that it allowed me to understand something about business, something about demographics and something about marketing.

What to do?, what not to do? and what was the cumulative effect of unchecked…wild ambition?

Each week while I worked in this environment someone would come into the music store with a very valuable accordion.

It was an instrument that they had purchased ten or 15 years earlier, they had paid a month’s wage or more.

They wanted to trade these instruments in on a Gibson or Fender guitar.

Alas, the accordion was fully out of favor with the public and at that time and we could only offer them five dollars on their 300 dollar investment.

At this time nobody was interested in their valued instrument.

It was an uncomfortable offer and most often they sulked off.

With these encounters I witnessed first hand, demography and how it effected business and as importantly personal investments.

The accordion was popular to a distinct age group and they were not finding a market to liquidate their prized possession …..a possession that had fallen out of favor.

I continued to give guitar lessons and ponder this curious business and social demographic.

Time moved on and it allowed me to reflect on this era and put it into current context and into current times.

Though well worn glasses I see my motorcycle friends putting on their black leathers, their jacket and helmets …heading out to Sturgis, SD for their annual Motorcycle rally.

I’ve been driving through Sturgis SD. during the event while on my way to various festivals and exhibitions for over the past two decades.

Most everyone now seems to be trailering the motor bikes and many struggle to keep them standing and from falling over as they reve their engines.

The event is starting to seem a bit geriatric and that caused me to ponder the demographics again.

The renegade spirit, the rugged individualist and non-conformist, all in exact same black, exact same chrome, exact same head rag, each one was a perfect example of exacting ….Harley conformity.

This is not a new phenomenon, we all seek groups with whom we want to identify. Similarities in dress and customs signal your tribal identity. It creates camaraderie.

Camaraderie creates lasting bonds and friendships.

How will this social and societal archetype play out in the aging demographic that we are seeing?

All of these motorcyclists purchased a treasured and valued way of transport, a lifestyle, a social membership.

Some bought these motorcycles on a whim and others scrimped and saved their whole lives to be able to join this club of “non conformists”.

Twenty five years ago I was in an investment group and we discussed the profitability of Harley Davidson as a stock.

Where was the growth, where was the profit, what were the long term prospects, what was the upside/downside ratio?

It was at one of these meetings we came to realize that a significant portion of their profits were being generated by “licensing products”.

It was the hallmark of “Branding”, companies joined in and helped brand their motorcyclists, Harley jackets, Harley trailers, Harley tee shirts.

Life has been exceedingly good for the company and it has been a great ride for individuals wanting experiential motorcycle camaraderie.

Rugged individualists………..millions of them.

What is to come?

My children are in their late 30’s and early forties, they are all educated and gainfully employed with discretionary

None of them have any interest in a Harley.

I say this with some consternation, an American Company, a flag waving group of individuals touting American ingenuity.

A motorcycle that is beastly fat and loud, bold and bodacious.

It shouts AMERICA! (The U.S.A. not, both North and South America)

While I was traveling in Italy the public witnessed a Harley on the streets of Rome, it didn’t go well. There was limited appeal, they didn’t seem to buy into the “American Individualizing”.

I sensed they viewed it negatively, a sense of American dominance, loud, brazen and conspicuous.

All the while ….finely tuned Bugatti’s, BMW’s and other motorcycles whizzed by sounding like finely tuned sewing machines.

Cultural differences on full display.

As the 60 or 70 something individual ponders his recreational, discretionary income spent on an American Icon there is a time a’coming…….

He has purchased the motorbike, the trailer, the garage, the pickup, the toy hauler and an RV.

A new investment group will come to witness and appreciate the coming era of that American ingenuity.

How will it play out without a successive generation to take the reins and be the “rugged individualist”?

Anybody want to buy an accordian?

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