Jill Close Continues Harley-Davidson’s Outreach to Women
Jill Close, who has been with Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee for three years, heads up the company’s women’s outreach program.
Jill says, “Women have always been part of the Harley-Davidson brand, and we’ve been marketing to them for decades. Our efforts and those of our dealer network have intensified over the past several years and go beyond advertising to include more experiential elements like Garage Party events, Harley-Davidson Riding Academy, a section of H.D.com dedicated to introducing women to motorcycling and the H-D brand (h-d.com/women), the JUMPSTART simulated riding experience, and our women’s outreach booths at major motorcycle rallies like Sturgis and Dayton Bike Week. All of these allow women who don’t ride opportunities to sample the brand and the riding experience on their terms.”
Jill was first introduced to Harley-Davidson motorcycles when her father bought one for his 58th birthday. She rode with him for the first year and says, “I was hooked. I decided I wanted to ride my own and took a rider training course the following spring.”
After working in dealer development for Harley-Davidson, Jill says she loves working in outreach to women. She says, “My favorite thing to do is to get out of the office and talk with women. I’m amazed at the stories of why women ride or how they started. I enjoy connecting with them, because more often than not, the stories have an emotionally driven reason for riding. For example, some women start riding because they simply don’t want to wait for a man to give them a ride; they want to feel the empowerment of riding when they want, on their terms. I also hear stories about women seeing other women on their own motorcycles, and it inspires them to take a rider training course and learn to ride on their own.”
Harley-Davidson was the number one seller of new on-road motorcycles in the United States, both 601cc-plus and across all engine displacements—to women, according to HIS Automotive, Polk U. S. new motorcycle registration data for 2014. Harley-Davidson sold more than nine times as many new motorcycles to Caucasian women ages 35-plus than the nearest competitor and more than seven times as many to women regardless of age or ethnicity in 2014. The company also promotes women-focused training classes and Garage Parties as part of their women's outreach program.
Touring the Harley-Davidson Museum was a highlight of my recent trip to Milwaukee, and it was interesting to note that so many other women were there that day. It’s fascinating to see the historic exhibits that show how this hometown company, founded by young William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson in the early 1900s, found international fame for its motorcycles.
At the age of 21, Harley created Serial Number One, which was basically an engine designed to fit into a bicycle. By 1906 a new factory on Chestnut Street (now Juneau Avenue) opened, and in 1907 William A. Davidson joined brothers Arthur and Walter Davidson to work with the Motor Company.
By 1914 H-D had formally entered the racing circuit, and in 1918 nearly one-half the motorcycles they produced were delivered to the U. S. Military with the advent of WWI.
With WWII heating up in the early 1940s, nearly all motorcycles produced by the company were delivered to the U. S. Military. The company was awarded E for Excellence awards by the U. S. Government for their support of war production four times.
Following the war, and their new-found independence from holding down so many jobs normally occupied by men who were off fighting, more women became interested in riding and owning their own motorcycles. But some women, like Della Crewe (photographed at right), were riding their own motorcycles even before WWI.
Wisconsin native Crewe had traveled to most of North America, Alaska, and Panama, but decided a motorcycle would be the best way to really see the country. On July 24, 1914, Ms. Crewe loaded 125 pounds of supplies into her two-speed bike’s sidecar and embarked on a 5,378 mile trip from Waco, Texas, to Milwaukee and then New York City. In six months she rode across 10 states, commenting as she boarded a sailing ship to head home that her health and desire were stronger than ever to keep riding.
I understand perfectly, since I used to ride an off-road bike and discovered there’s no better way to find sheer joy and freedom of the road than on a motorcycle. I still miss my biking days, so I couldn’t resist having my photo taken with this beautiful Harley after touring the museum.
Jill says, “Working at Harley-Davidson has been a dream. It is a wonderful feeling when you get to combine your passion with your job. Riding or driving to work doesn’t feel like a chore, and I can truly say that I love it and am fortunate to be a part of Harley-Davidson and its history.”
Jo Ann Holt is a longtime journalist based in Dallas, Texas, who started her career as a reporter for her high school newspaper, continuing as editor of her college newspaper and magazine. Since then she has been a women’s editor, a lifestyle editor, and an entertainment columnist for various publications while also operating a boutique PR agency specializing in arts and entertainment. As a freelance writer, Holt loves the freedom of the road as she covers the automotive and travel industries for several outlets. She is the VP of Communications for Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA), a group of journalists who hold two major events: TAWA Truck Rodeo to choose the Truck of Texas in October, and the spring Auto Roundup to choose the Car of Texas.