For the past few months, Royal Enfield has been building a global empire — a global empire that has excluded North America. Now, that’s likely about to change, thanks to a change in their distribution system.
In recent months, we’ve seen Royal Enfield purchase Harris Performance and hire Pierre Terblanche. A little further back, they opened a new factory that gave them increased manufacturing capacity, allowing them to crank out more bikes, which in turn has allowed them to increase sales to surpass Harley-Davidson globally. They’ve launched a spiffy new cafe racer, and there’s an adventure bike on the way.
In other words, they’re a marque on a mission.
However, that mission hasn’t included North America so far. While Royal Enfield has seen massive growth in other markets, their bikes are still few and far between on our roads. Their head office has been quoted in the Indian motorcycle press as saying North America isn’t an important market to them.
Now, their relationship with North America is about to change, with reports Royal Enfield is setting up a direct distribution company based in Milwaukee.
This move is going to change Royal Enfield’s status in North America for a couple reasons.
First, their existing distributors (Origin Motorcycles in Canada, Classic Motoworks in the US) haven’t brought the brand out of its niche status on this continent. Seen a Royal Enfield on the street lately? Neither have we.
Selling oddball bikes like Royal Enfields is no easy task, as they appeal to a very specific segment of the market. However, the parent company wants to move past that niche appeal into the mainstream, and they seem to think the existing system isn’t working.
The new distributor, owned entirely by Royal Enfield, will take care of marketing, after-sale service, etc. Not only will they sell motorcycles to dealers, but the Economic Times also reports they’ll sell motorcycles directly to consumers. That’s an option currently explored by the California Scooter Company, but no mainstream manufacturer.
Direct sales could be a sticky issue, as dealers might not like it. However, Royal Enfield plans to open more dealers through their new North American subsidiary. If they really can pull off both these feats, we should see a turnaround in their sales here. After all, if you want to boost sales, one of the best ways to do it is make bikes available.
Second, this move is going to bring about change not because of what they’re doing, but how they’re doing it.
Royal Enfield is basing their new distributor out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Their invasion of the North American market will start in the same town that houses Harley-Davidson headquarters. And, not only are they based in Milwaukee, the new head of Royal Enfield North America is none other than Rod Copes.
Copes is hardly a household name, even in motorcycling households, but he was a big shot at Harley-Davidson for a long time. In his 20-year career with the MoCo, Copes was heavily involved with overseas expansion in Europe, South America and Asia. When he left Harley-Davidson, he was Head of Global Sales and Customer Service. Brand building is what he does.
The reports of Royal Enfield’s new North American distributor seem to indicate they plan on establishing their presence in Milwaukee with a retail store, selling Royal Enfield T-shirts and the like. The Milwaukee store is only the first such installation they’re planning. Copes obviously knows what works for Harley-Davidson; he probably helped write their playbook. Now, he’s turning that playbook into a how-to manual for Royal Enfield’s North American reboot.
Copes said American riders want “machines that are easy to own and maintain,” and that “Royal Enfield offers evocative and unintimidating modern classic motorcycles, with timeless appeal.” Royal Enfield certainly has the “modern classic” part figured out. If they can also deliver on the “easy to own and maintain” ideal, Copes and Co. could be spearheading the made-in-India invasion of North America motorcycle showrooms, a move that’s been a long time coming.