The Loss Of Victory

Steve Lita, American Iron Magazine Editor

Steve Lita, American Iron Magazine Editor


It didn’t make financial sense to keep competing against itself

Yes, that headline is meant to be an oxymoron. As of this writing, the announcement that Polaris Industries is winding down the Victory motorcycle brand is just a few days old, and the internet is ablaze with angry owners and armchair CEOs.

Thanks to a 24/7-Internet that epitomizes and encourages the pack mentality, every person that ever rode a motorcycle can chime in about which motorcycle brand builds butt-ugly bikes, how Polaris supposedly wronged its customers, and how much a person loves or hates the brand; some of these threads are peppered with “I told ya so,” thrown in for good measure. Say what you will—I highly doubt there will be a reversal of decision. As for me, I liked Victory bikes. And the only framed picture of me that my mom has sitting on a bookshelf is of me riding a Victory Magnum. But perhaps she’s biased, with me being her favorite son and all.

It’s ironic that I received the news about Victory at 7 am PST, just before my scheduled meeting with Polaris staff. The meeting started out with the staffer extending his hand and introducing himself, and as I shook his hand I said, “I’m Steve, from American Iron Magazine. What did you do to Victory?” Might as well jump right in. He delivered his response with tongue-in-cheek. “Well, more money we can now spend on Indian, I suppose.” While we both chuckled at his response, it was probably the most succinct way to sum it up. The official Polaris press release states: Several factors influenced today’s announcement. Victory has struggled to establish the market share needed to succeed and be profitable…and considering the strong performance and growth potential of Indian Motorcycle, the decision to more narrowly focus Polaris’ energy and investments became quite clear.

There it is, right there in the last sentence. One of the things that went awry, in my opinion, was Polaris competing against itself by having two brands producing premium cruisers and touring bikes under the same roof. And while efforts were made late in the game to position either brand at different points on the spectrum, Victory as the performance cruiser and Indian as the classic cruiser, offerings from both brands were cannibalizing sales from each other. Even adding an electric naked standard (whose time has not yet come) to the Victory product line wasn’t enough to separate the product selections. After all, how many customers can afford to buy two new cruisers from the same company?

I’ve noticed a similar trend in my industry—print magazines. There are some publishing companies out here who are competing against themselves. While some titles get stronger, others weaken. The fortunate thing is that the cost of a magazine subscription isn’t a financial heartache for the consumer, so, hopefully, people can subscribe to more than one.

Early in my career, I shuffled through pages of parts books (remember when parts books were printed on paper?) as a GM dealer parts counterman. The catalog would designate which car line the part was used for: CBOP, which stood for Chevy, Buick, Olds, Pontiac. Yep, the very same parts were used to build seemingly identical cars and were being sold across the street from each other in competing dealerships. I often wondered why. Not too long ago, it didn’t make financial sense to keep competing against itself, and GM “right-sized” itself by eliminating several brands. Personally, I don’t know why Pontiac or Olds had to go. I would have killed off Buick and GMC. (How is a GMC any better or different than a Chevy?)

There are probably more reasons why the Victory brand was not victorious, certainly more than this column can adequately cover. Sadly, some folks will lose their jobs over this. But I’ve been told layoffs were kept to a minimum by transferring employees to other divisions within Polaris, and most being dismissed were temporary labor. If this move will allow the parent company to concentrate on beating the competition, its true competition, sustaining fiscal viability, and caring for its core employees, then it was the move that had to be made. Another snippet from the official press release states: Our focus is on profitable growth… fostering long-term growth and increased shareholder value.

Still, I’d hate to be the guy who suggested winding down Victory in a boardroom as a means of making the company stronger.

Steve Lita

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