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In a previous post I mentioned how Maytag has been challenged to follow in the footsteps of the Motor Company by developing proftable operations in the USA benefitting, among others, its employee base.

Of course Harley did not gain this foothold by merely looking to secure highly compensated long term employment. They did it through good product design that developed a consumer niche that they exploited through good cooperative labor in their operations. Some believe that Harley just stepped into its loyal customer base. But in 1984, Harley only sold 80,000 motorcycles. This years target is some 329,000.

Having owned several Harleys as long, it is my belief that Harley cultivated that spirit which grew accordingly. There were no where near the number of enthusiasts to buy that many bikes in 1984, these customers were developed. And they did it through cooperation of everyone involved, not just by exploiting the consumers desires. Numerous anniversary Homecomings, the Harley Owners Group, their huge commitment to MDA, cultivation and nurturing of dealerships to modern must-ride destinations instead of repair shops - these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Could an appliance company take this tact?

Sure. There are way more consumers passionate about cooking and their households, or could be, than ride all brands of motorcycles combined. Loyal KitchenAid mixer, Viking Stoves, JennAir ranges and Cuisanart users could easily be cultivated into more passionate loyal customers willing to pay more for a premium more attentive appliance.

Here is further proof that it takes more than a management directive, it takes walking the talk.

American Rights at Work honors Harley-Davidson Motor Company for taking the road less traveled when it bucked the offshoring trend, built a new U.S. plant, and achieved record profits, all the while partnering with its workers and unions.

While many companies pay lip service to employee relations, Harley-Davidson Motor Company, the heavyweight bike manufacturer, cultural symbol, and Fortune 500 company, has demonstrated a solid commitment to keeping jobs in the United States and valuing the talent and commitment of its employees. Harley-Davidson rebuilt its company from near bankruptcy in the 1980s by working in partnership with its employees and the unions representing them, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (Machinists) and the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE).

Harley-Davidson chose not to follow the lead of countless manufacturers who went overseas for cheap labor. In 1997, the motorcycle manufacturer decided to build a new plant in Kansas City, MO, and offer good wages and benefits. The plant's interactive manufacturing process gives workers input over every aspect of production to improve quality and efficiency. To help prevent employees from working themselves out of a job, however, the company and unions created an agreement providing workers with employment security and retraining when necessary. This partnership has enabled Harley-Davidson to expand in the United States, stay competitive, and go on to achieve record revenues and Wall Street accolades.
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