Polaris Industries roared into March full throttle with a new line of motorcycles, first-time partnerships with Jack Daniel’s and Red Wing Shoes and its first showing at the wildly popular South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.
It also threw in an acquisition for good measure this month, buying California-based Taylor-Dunn, the maker of four-wheeled warehouse and factory vehicles, for an undisclosed price.
The moves continue to diversify Medina-based Polaris, building businesses that are not the off-road sports vehicles that are showing some weakness. Overall corporate sales in the fourth quarter fell 13 percent, with officials warning that this quarter would be tough as well.
But motorcycle sales surged 33 percent during the quarter and jumped 67 percent for the full-year.
Polaris’ Victory and Indian lines have a long way to go to catch up to industry leader Harley Davidson, which had about 50 percent market share in the U.S. last year. But experts said Polaris’ bold marketing moves should help.
Wells Fargo securities analyst Timothy Conder wrote in a recent research note that while the global motorcycle industry is expected to remain “flattish,” he sees Polaris’ Indian brand “gaining meaningful share” and Victory “returning to growth.”
Polaris’ biggest move of late is a new partnership with Jack Daniel’s. Polaris agreed to build 150 limited edition Indian motorcycles with “Bottles and Throttles Don’t Mix” on the front fender and a list on the back fender of Jack Daniel’s master distillers over the years. The Jack Daniel signature is etched in chrome and stitched in leather. The models sold out in a day when Polaris opened preorders on March 4.
Harley Davidson also has had luck with a partnership with Miller High Life and a company-branded brewpub. The alcohol-related efforts of both companies, however, have analysts raising their eyebrows.
Ryan Citron, a Navigant Research analyst, said the idea of a Polaris-Jack Daniel’s partnership makes him “queasy,” but noted that marketers may see the overlap of audiences as appealing.
Polaris’ new motorcycle models, the 2016 Indian Springfield and the 2017 Victory Octane, have been received well by industry press and trade shows.
“It’s safe to say these new product innovations and marketing partnerships are multimillion dollar investments,” said Steve Menneto, president of the Polaris motorcycles division. “[For] the return on investment what we look at is [building] brand strength and [sales] volume. We project that volume will increase [and] we will double our market share over the next three years.”
The Polaris deals with Jack Daniel’s and Red Wing Shoes took a few years to put together, he said. They are meant to honor three companies that are all more than a century old.
Red Wing will offer three models of Indian Motorcycle riding boots that pay homage to the bike’s 115-year history, each retailing for about $320. The Worthington is named after the Springfield, Mass., street where Indian was founded in 1901. The Spirit Lake is named after the Iowa town where the bikes are now built. The third boot is named after Catherine Connelly of Owatonna, Minn., one of the brand’s earliest female riders and loyalists. The Indian Motorcycle logo is embossed into each heel and engraved on the boot buckles.
“They put some real nice touches on the boot,” Menneto said. “It’s been just great. We started talking to [Red Wing Shoes] CEO Dave Murphy about this two or three years ago, about how our brands might work together. You don’t just jump into something like this. You have to make sure it makes sense. And it does. It finally came together over the last year. We’re excited.”
Motorcycles are Polaris’ newest product line. For decades it was mostly known for its four-wheel off road vehicles and its snowmobiles and accessories. The company entered the motorcycle game in 1999 when it designed and built the Victory motorcycle.
Five years ago it increased the ante, buying the beloved Indian Motorcycle brand and spending millions introducing all-new Indian models in 2013. There are now eight Indian bike models and 13 Victory models.
And the numbers will grow, said Menneto, noting that the newest introductions debuted last week at the Daytona Bike Week in Florida. The bikes will make appearances at events across the country throughout the year, including the Barrett-Jackson Auction in Las Vegas in October.
Motorcycles now represent $700 million of Polaris’s $4.7 billion in annual revenue.
“There was this excitement for the first three years of just getting Indian off the ground,” Menneto said. “Now there’s the fun of really expanding the business and really growing the customer base.”