William Harley and Arthur Davidson wanted to take the work out of riding bicycles in 1901. After being joined by the Arthur brothers, Walter and William, they came up with the idea of putting a motor and a bicycle together. Many engine changes were made before the builders were satisfied. In 1903, they created the first Harley-Davidson motorcycle and produced three that year. Harley built its first building in 1907 on Juneau Avenue in Milwaukee. That same year, 150 motorcycles were produced. As they were used for recreational purposes, they were also used in military situations. They proved useful in border skirmishes and the government called for 20,000 bikes to be shipped overseas. Following the war, other companies tried to enter the market, but Harley remained the largest. The depression had an unfavorable effect on Harley as it did with most corporations, but it outlasted the crisis and celebrated its fiftieth year in 1953 as the sole survivor in the motorcycle industry. Harley did turn public in 1965, but was bought by thirteen senior Harley-Davidson executives in 1981. It was returned to public ownership in 1986 by offering two million shares of common stock. It was approved by the New York Stock exchange in 1987 and has been there ever since.
A company with the history of Harley-Davidson has few weaknesses and threats, but a SWOT analysis can help them turn them into favorable opportunities and strengths.
Strengths- Customer loyalty is probably the number one strength of Harley’s business. Once a person buys a Harley, it seems as though they become trapped in the entire Harley business. Once they buy a Harley, they usually never buy another brand of motorcycle. Along with the bike comes the apparel. Once a person purchases a bike, the jacket, bandanas, etc. become a must. Opportunity- For Harley is that the economy is at a place where people will go out and purchase a motorcycle for recreational purposes. Whether the economy is good or not, is a place where they may thrive. When the economy is not doing as well, people may look at a motorcycle as a more economical way to travel so Harley can do well in both situations. Weaknesses- Large numbers of products being produced can make for many errors. When there is such a demand to produce many of one type of product, there can be many mistakes that may be let go. The biker image can also be a weakness. Many people may stray away from purchasing a motorcycle for fear that they will be placed in a certain category by society. Threats- The business of building a motorcycle can be profitable because it is not an expensive product to make, but can be sold at the same price as a car. This may draw many competitors into the business, perhaps other car producing companies who already may have a following of their own.
Asset Turnover is favorable because it states that for every dollar that Harley puts into their company they are making back that money and more. Current Ratio states that Harley is able to pay off their short run debt without any problems. This is favorable. Total debt to total asset is favorable because most companies receive much of their assets through loans and they are in debt more than they need to be, but Harley keeps that figure under 50%.
My first recommendation is to the problem they are having with the biker image combined with the strength of their history as a top company. To get society to veer away from this image, perhaps the company should participate in charity work, community service, etc. They should use not only employees, but also perhaps some of their top customers. The loyalty most of their customers have may benefit them where they may take time to help the image of Harley. If small prizes like merchandise, helmets, and discounts were offered to customers for helping the company, they may be able to draw those same bikers into helping in the community to help clean up the image.
On a business level, Harley may want to try to develop new products that will give them an extra push past their competitors. They already have the loyalty base and combined with the threat of new entry into the business, they can enter other performance type industries. Bicycles, roller blades, and skateboards are just a few of the products that they can develop that may not be out of their range. Generation X and Y have gotten into these extreme sports and perhaps by reaching out to them with these types of products, they will develop future relationships with them. These performance products can be used for recreation and competition while keeping that edge that Harley has had since it began.
The stock of Harley continues to rise as the idea that the Japanese is dominating the industry. Since the beginning of the year, the stock for Harley has risen almost 49%. Part of the reason is the change in their operations. For years, people would have to wait for months for a bike due to the huge demand, but foul ups have been fixed and they are now pumping out bikes like never before. This article also states how well Harley deals with its employees and their union. Most recently, they signed a seven-year contract while still having one year left on their previous contract. There are some critics though who believe that Harley is just a “balloon waiting to burst”. Due to the expensive price, they believe that there is not much room to grow and that it is only a matter of time before the stock price begins to drop.