Motor Trike: Building a Brand Community

Cater, J. J., Beal, B. D., Tarter, J., & Swimberghe, K. 2015. Motor Trike: Building a brand community. Case Research Journal, 35(2): 73-94. [journal]

Case Synopsis:

In August 1994, Jeff and Diane Vey purchased FNJ Engineering a fledgling motorcycle conversion kit manufacturer located in Troup, TX. Approximately one year after the purchase, they changed the name of the company to Motor Trike, Inc. Jeff was able, by drawing on his lifelong enthusiasm for mechanical “tinkering,” to design an internal swing arm that improved both the aesthetics and performance of Motor Trike’s conversions kits (an innovation that was subsequently copied by nearly all competing conversion kit manufacturers). These and other efforts resulted in steady increases in sales during the late 1990s. The company experienced a significant increase in demand after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. Sales continued to increase steadily through the early 2000s, then declined slightly and leveled out during the overall industry decline in 2008-2011 following the 2007-2008 financial crisis. In 14 of the first 15 years after purchasing the company, year-over-year revenue increased by more than 10%.

While many companies initiated cutbacks and layoffs in the years following the financial crisis, Motor Trike had made the difficult decision to retain its workforce and to devote slack resources to product improvement and innovation. Because of this decision, Motor Trike was able to introduce an independent rear suspension (IRS) that improved the overall ride of its trikes. Motor Trike was also able to streamline its internal production processes and reengineer its conversion kits in order to reduce the shop time required for installation.

By the end of 2013, Motor Trike’s success had created new opportunities for the company. Jacquelyn Moore, the new marketing manager, had been tasked with assessing the possibility of establishing a customer group or brand community for Motor Trike. Moore had worked with a small group of business professors at a local university to design a customer survey that had yielded a significant amount of customer data. As she sat at the long table in the conference room analyzing the results of the survey, she reminded herself that it was her job to interpret the data for Vey and other decision-makers in the company. The question she’s been tasked with answering was this: “Should Motor Trike work to establish a brand community, and if so, how?” It was Saturday, and she was scheduled to give a presentation to Vey at 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning.

Case Questions:

1) Describe the motorcycle industry, the motorcycle subculture, and the trike segment. What are some of the unique characteristics of the trike segment?

2) Describe Motor Trike. What are the most important characteristics of the company? How has the history of the company likely affected the company’s culture and the way the company treats its customers?

3) Describe some of the potential benefits of starting a brand community. Explain why calculating potential costs and benefits is difficult and suggest some ways Motor Trike might track and/or measure these costs and benefits going forward.

4) How was the survey data in Exhibits 3-12 collected? Is there anything unusual about it? Comment generally on its reliability and usefulness.

5) What insight does the survey data provide the company? Does it suggest that Motor Trike’s efforts are likely to be successful? Why or why not? Support your answer by relying on the data provided in Exhibits 3 through 12.

6) Based on what Motor Trike knows about the motorcycle industry, the motorcycle subculture, the trike segment, its organizational characteristics, its customers, and the potential costs and benefits, should the company start a brand community. Why or why not?

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