Retail Trends: Safety Sells

Editor’s note: We bring you this month’s article by expert guest blogger, John Wyckoff. This month John examines an interesting trend affecting retailers such as car dealers, power equipment sellers, and motorcycle dealers: the trend of the newly safety-conscious America.

By John Wyckoff

Macho morphs to maturity? I’ve seen it with my own eyes … a Harley-Davidson rider wearing a helmet. No, it’s not a common sight … yet. However, as states change the laws regarding the mandatory helmet use the fatality and traumatic head injury rates of motorcyclists climbs dramatically. Every coin has two sides.

I’ve read it in USA Today: “Cars have had seat belts for more than 30 years, and states started requiring their use in 1984. But the risk of debilitating injury or death — or a ticket — has persuaded only 75% of Americans to buckle up. That gives the USA a lower rate than most of the developed world.” A 10% increase in seatbelt usage means that 2,700 won’t die and 40,000 will be spared injury in an accident.

I’ve seen the ads where the announcer proudly announced that: “This car has more air bags than any other vehicle offered to the public. We care about your safety.” The car? The Lexus RX300. It has 9 air bags.

What’s happening? Virtually the entire population of the USA is becoming safety conscious. Why? Technology!

What does that mean? Anyone selling anything that has a safety component must learn how to leverage safety as a selling feature and benefit.

Back when Barney Oldfield set the record of going an unheard of speed of 60 miles per hour on the racetrack safety was not a consideration. Seat belts and turn signals and hydraulic brakes were yet to be invented. Today, with Interstate speeds of 75 miles per hour, where the average 40-foot truck exceeds the limit by 10 miles per hour, safety seems much more important.

Motorcycle manufacturers are increasing their safety concerns too. Why? More riders are dying as traffic congestion combined with speeds increase.

Power anti-lock brakes are now common on motorcycles. Honda is experimenting with motorcycle airbags.

Some automobiles have headlights that look around corners, traction controls and skid compensators.

On the other side of the safety coin we find motorcycles with horsepower-to-weight ratio equaling a weapon, and with claimed top speeds of well over 150 miles per hour. Autos now boast of 300-plus horsepower and speed capability of at least double any posted speed limit in the country. Few owners of these vehicles are sufficiently trained to handle those speeds let alone using the brakes to scrub off those miles-per-hour safely.

There are two things missing. First, getting the knowledge of the technology and what it means through to the end user. Auto salespeople seem to think that color and cup holders are more important. Motorcycle salespeople focus on paint and chrome. (By the way, very few cars use chrome anymore.)

The next problem is to get the salesperson to understand the customer is really interested in safety. Today, safety sells. That could not be said during the latter part of the last century.

Gone are the days when the end-user could service his/her own motorcycle, car, truck or ATV. Diagnostic computers now plug directly into the vehicle and using the mystery of pre-programmed reports, tell the tech exactly what’s going on, what needs service and how to do it.

Few end users understand the technology. That’s not new. Few end users know how a CD or DVD works. Few really understand how an antenna can bring in a color TV program with stereo sound. Technology is becoming ever more complex, meaning that specialists are needed. The reality is that the end user doesn’t really have to know how something works; just that it does work.

What is needed are translators — staff members who understand what the safety features do and how to get across to the customer why it’s a value-added benefit to them and their loved ones.

Why spend all that time selling safety? The public is focusing on safety. As speed limits are ignored, traffic jams in metropolitan areas become even more common. As tempers flare, prudence evaporates. Add cars with 300 to 500 horsepower sharing the road with you and 40-foot trucks, and safety will remain in sharp focus for the foreseeable future.

Everything in today’s world is faster except the ability to teach and to learn. Those assets will be the most important skills of the retail world.

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John Wyckoff, author of The Complete Guide to Profitable Powersports DealershipsJohn Wyckoff is the author of Mind Your Own Business, 2nd Edition: The Complete Guide to Profitable Powersports Dealerships. To read more of John Wyckoff’s guest articles like this one, visit our Experts directory.


John Wyckoff John Wyckoff (now deceased) is the author of Mind Your Own Business, 2nd Edition: The Complete Guide to Profitable Powersports Dealerships. He founded Intersports Fashion West, a wildly successful powersports leather accessories business which he sold to Hein Gericke. In later life he appeared as a frequent speaker and consulted with motorcycle dealership owners on profitability and retailing.

2 Reactions
  1. Good stuff, John. I look forward to reading more of your articles.

  2. If that will be the growing trend, manufacturers are becoming concerned with their clients. That is a very good sign. It only means that these producers are into their client’s safety.