Harley-Davidson: A Perfect Example of a Brand Survivor and Protector

Many times, people hear them before they see them. Whether individually or grouped in a crowd, they come rumbling loudly and distinctly. Dressed in shiny chrome, tailored colors, personal insignias, and unique designs, Harley-Davidson motorcycles make a big statement. So big in fact that they make up approximately half of the U.S. motorcycle industry. In 2017, company revenue reached $5.65 billion with 242,788 retail motorcycle sales worldwide. No other motorcycle company compares with the strong customer base that surrounds the Harley-Davidson brand. Its Harley Owners Group (HOG) boasts more than 1,000 chapters and more than one million members around the world. The company even has a Harley-Davidson Museum located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that showcases 450 motorcycles, attracting an estimated 300,000 visitors annually.

This year, Harley-Davidson celebrates its 115th anniversary, which is no small feat for any company, let alone one that offers nonessential products. Over the years, Harley-Davidson has endured depressions, wars, and strong competitors, and still reigns in the motorcycle industry today. It has offered hundreds of models in three broad categories: touring motorcycles, cruiser motorcycles, and sportsters & street bikes. However, while motorcycles are at the crux of the brand, its merchandise is no small factor in the success of the company. In fact, in 2016, the brand’s clothing accounted for 5% of total sales, at nearly $285 million.

Since clothing and the overall use of the brand name contributes to the success of the company, Harley-Davidson aggressively pursued an infringement case against print-on-demand T-shirt company SunFrog. SunFrog’s service allows customers to design T-shirts and store the designs in the company’s online database, in which other customers can use. This method makes it easy for customers to use a company logo to design a shirt and then give access to that design to countless other customers. In this case, more than 100 instances of infringement occurred using Harley-Davidson’s designs, to which Harley-Davidson objected. As a result, Harley-Davidson won the biggest awarded trademark infringement case in history at $19.2 million.

This verdict comes at a crucial time for Harley-Davidson as the company faces a slump with 2017 representing the third annual decline in sales. This slump forces the company to close its Kansas City, MO factory and to focus on other ways to build sales. However, as history has proven, Harley-Davidson is a survivor with a powerful brand. After all, it is one of the most recognized brands in the world. With new target market demographics such as women, minorities, and young adults, an electric motorcycle in the near future, ever-evolving models, and consistent protection of its brand, Harley-Davidson may survive another 100+ years!