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Laurent says on a Harley, forget the destination


They buy them for all sorts of reasons – from wanting to relive their younger days to rewarding themselves for years of hard work – but one thing’s for sure: once they own a Harley-Davidson motorcylce, they’re a part of something special.

“I didn’t realize before I bought the bike how much camaraderie there is between riders,” said Louie Laurent, part owner of Zimmerman, Laurent & Richardson Inc., a Des Moines advertising and marketing firm. “They don’t know if you’re the president of General Motors or if you’re unemployed for life. If somebody’s riding a bike, you have something immediately in common, and it isn’t just the bike.”

Laurent has owned his Harley-Davidson Fat Boy since 2001. A combination of memories and timing prompted his purchase. He had owned a motorcycle while in college, but wound up selling it to help pay for his education. As years passed, one memory stuck with him from those earlier days, an experience only someone who has owned a bike can understand.

“The first warm day of spring.…The first time you got on it and went down the street. You just never forget that feeling of the fresh air,” he said.

Admittedly one of a growing number of Baby Boomers investing in recreation vehicles, Laurent rationalized getting his bike after having an exceptionally good year of business. From the time he bought the oversized easy rider, he says it’s been an ongoing lesson in brand identity. As an ad industry professional, he says, “Their company gets it, and their dealers get it. Harley-Davidson is not only a brand; it’s like a cult in a way.”

The company starts by taking a picture of each buyer with their bike and mailing it to them, mounted on a calendar. A leather certificate of ownership follows and so forth. Dealerships have weekly meetings and regular potlucks. The riders are welcomed into a new community through their purchase, and find it natural to meet up at establishments like Porky’s for its “bike night” on Thursdays.

“You can talk to anybody and feel safe,” Laurent said. “They will walk up and talk to you about your bike and you welcome it. You meet some of these people and you may never know their last name, but it doesn’t matter.”

Laurent says the anonymity around other motorcycle owners is one of the appeals of ownership to people such as himself.

“Business people have to toe this line all day long and all week long,” Laurent said. “The Harley kind of lets them cut loose and feel free for a while.”

Riding a bike, he says, makes you instantly interact differently with your surroundings, mainly because physically, you are so much closer to everything around you.

“It’s so much different from being in a car, where you go and you can’t wait to get to your destination,” Laurent said. “On a Harley, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. If you do it right, you don’t set an agenda for yourself. If you see something that interests you, you stop along the way.”

He says every time you get on the bike it’s a getaway, whether it’s a Sunday afternoon rice with friends or the morning commute to work.

“It’s fun to just ride into work, whereas it’s no fun to drive to work,” he said. “It’s functional recreation. For those 15 minutes in the morning, I get to have a little fun. It’s almost a little bit self-indulgent.”

Owning a Harley has also helped his business on at least one occasion, he believes.

“I was trying to get this account for a long time, and I kept calling him on the phone every now and then to introduce myself, but he never returned my calls,” Laurent said. “I found out that he had a couple of Harleys, so I called him and left a message mentioning mine. He called me that afternoon and we had lunch.”

Laurent knows that Harley owners always have something to talk about. Not only do they share the love of the ride and a love of freedom, but also a respect for the company behind it all.

“They pulled themselves up by their bootstraps when their product was bad 20 years ago and they were going bankrupt,” he said. “They turned it around, and in the process, they became a huge part of Americana. They went from being associated with outlaws to mainstream America. The Harley-Davidson company is a miracle story.”

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