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Holding out for a hero

Six months into his role as general manager of BMW Motorrad UK, Phil Horton sets out his stall for the burgeoning German brand.

Phil Horton has just completed his first six months in the General Manager’s seat at BMW Motorrad UK, having taken over in September 2014 from Adrian Roderick who previously held the position for eight years.

Horton is a long-time BMW staffer and motorcyclist who has held roles with BMW in South Africa, Dubai and, before his recent move back to England, Australia. On his return Horton had to hit the ground running, beginning with attending the Motorcycle Show in Birmingham, which was closely followed by leading the company’s dealer conference held in Milan to coincide with the EICMA show.

At the beginning of this year, the company’s UK dealers were again brought together in Portugal giving them the chance to see just what they’ll be selling this year. Arranged by BMW AG, the event was not only a display of static bikes but also gave them the opportunity to ride, on road and track, the five new models launching in 2015.

“What was fantastic about that trip was that not only was everyone able to ride the new bikes, as they would expect to do, including taking the S 1000 RR out on the track at Esterille, but the company also brought along some of the new bikes that are not yet available, like the new 300s. These new machines have really got the dealers excited for the future. It was very motivational. We had told them what to expect but to actually see them makes a real difference, even if they are not production versions.”

The impact of the bikes being presented to the dealers in Portugal is being carried forward by Horton, as he stated, “Over the past couple of years the BMW motorcycle range has expanded enormously and we are still carrying that momentum forward. I am very ambitious about the next three to five years and the team here are too. What I have been able to do in just six months, off the back of some very ambitious volume planning, is get additional resources approved, particularly extra staff. We’re a small team here; 16 people and that’s the entirety of BMW Motorrad in the UK. We are going to add three more people. Three extra staff when you’re starting at 16 is quite significant.”

Horton has plans too for expansion of the company’s dealer network. “The network we have is 36 in the UK and two in Southern Ireland. In terms of expanding it, we will be looking to fill areas in the UK where we don’t have a presence. We have told the existing network that over the next three to five years we expect to have eight to ten new retailers. Expansion is something I am very keen on and one of the things I have been implementing since my arrival here. It is not that the team wasn’t aware too of the need to expand, rather that my coming in has added to the impetus to do so.”

Continuing on the theme of expansion and increased sales Horton had this to say, “The growth is going to mean a high level of investment. We are investing not only in corporate identity - worldwide we are getting new internal corporate identity - but more importantly from my point of view if we are going to grow the volume that means we are going to grow the number of people visiting the dealers for service work. In my experience, that is always where the pinch point exists. You can take the same size showroom and put more bikes in and sell more bikes, but in terms of investment you really need to invest in the back end to ensure the capacity is there, and crucially that there are enough people to deal with the aftersales needs for what we have coming down the line, not only the new models but the increased number of bikes being sold.”

A focus on increased sales and a concentration on offering a high level of service work are not the only areas that Horton is challenging BMW’s dealerships to work on. He says he wants, “Every one of the dealers to become ‘local heroes’. I define that as being in any town where there is a BMW motorcycle dealer that should be where the local motorcyclists want to go to. To become the dealership of choice when someone goes out for a ride and they want to finish at a shop where they can talk bikes and hang out with their mates. To be able to offer the best service, the best customer service, the best facilities."

It is a challenge he is throwing down not just to the existing network of dealerships but also those businesses interested in becoming BMW dealers. “We are open to people approaching us looking to open dealerships and we also have people we would like to work with.

“We have just appointed the Blade Group, a business with multiple car and bike franchises, which was keen to work with us. They have motorcycle experience and that is what we want from potential dealers. We do not think that just because all of our existing combi dealers (BMW motorcycle and automotive at the same venue but in separate buildings) are profitable that that is the only way forward. I would prefer to have more exclusively motorcycle-only businesses operating independently. The bike dealerships are, with a couple of exceptions, solus dealers and our preferred model is exclusively BMW, but we understand that isn’t always a viable proposition especially in more remote locations. Hopefully, some interested parties will be reading this and will get in touch with us. We’re happy to talk to anyone, but we’d like them to have proven motorcycle experience. BMW Motorrad is a big brand that going place and it’s not for the faint hearted.”

When questioned about how he sees the future of not only BMW in the UK but motorcycling generally, Horton was very optimistic, “For the industry as a whole, I think 2015 will be a really strong year. There’s real excitement in the superbike market, not just with the S 1000 RR but with news bikes from Kawasaki and Yamaha too and that’s a good thing; when there is excitement around superbikes it drives the whole market. For us, we have confirmed that the air-cooled boxer engine will continue in production as a result of sales of the R nine T and we’ll be using the motor in some more new models in the future. The first of those will be a scrambler style bike to be introduced at the end of this year to go on sale in mid-2016. There are other models too, but they are staying under wraps for a bit longer.

“The first of the new 300s won’t be seen until the end of this year. It will be either a naked bike or a mini GS the decision about which one will launch first is yet to be made.”

Concluding, Horton stated that, “There is a lot of optimism in the BMW network. Even with the introduction of new dealers we will be growing the volume of sales in the existing network.” Backing these comments up is the news that BMW Motorrad had a 13.5% global retail sales increase in February with 9,195 bikes sold, while here in the UK there was a 75% improvement to 247 registrations.

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