A career within the chemical industry, followed by an 18 year spell in retail, might not be what you’d expect when you meet Heather Whittaker, brand manager at Lakeside Harley Davidson. But Heather’s passion for the Harley Davidson brand and her ambition has seen the dealership thrive and develop, which resulted in an award for excellent customer service in 2016.

In fact, it was Heather’s strong retail background which saw her headhunted for the role of merchandising manager at Jardine Motors Group’s Harley Davidson showroom. As a non-rider herself, Heather understandably had concerns about taking on the new role, however, feeling she had somewhat stagnated in her previous job and not one to say no to a challenge, Heather was keen to accept.

Those familiar with Harley Davidson will understand that for its customers, it’s more than just a brand, for many it’s a way of life. This, coupled with entering a male dominated industry, has of course meant that throughout her time working for Harley Davidson since the store opened in 2010, Heather has come to expect a look of surprise when customers realise the store has a female brand manager.

“Having come from a career outside of the automotive industry, I was fully prepared to face some challenges along the way in my new role; however, everyone I have met has been really supportive. Of course there have been some customers shocked that a woman is running the showroom, but once they see that I share their passion for the brand and know my Softtail from my Sportster, I’ve been able to confidently demonstrate why I am just as right for the role as anybody else.”

Since joining the branch as one of only three females, Heather has worked to encourage more women into the industry, with the showroom now achieving around 40% of its roles filled by women.

Hard work and Heather’s out-and-out ability to consistently deliver the best for her customers has not only seen her outperform other branches, but also be recognised with a Motor Cycle News (MCN) Award for customer service, in 2016.

The MCN Awards recognise the very best that motorcycling has to offer, and assess all major motorcycling brands, not just Harley Davidson franchises. Describing what excellent customer service means to her and her showroom, Heather explains it’s all about nurturing her customers, engaging with them on their journey, and delivering stand out service to everyone.

“I have always seen my role as an extension of my sales team, and as such I feel it’s vital that I am visible and approachable to them at all times. For me, it all comes down to having one chance to impress, so it can’t be wasted. In fact, this is so important to me that recently when our branch underwent a refurbishment I requested that my office, complete with glass walls, was installed right in the centre of the showroom. This not only means that should the store get busy I am on hand to support my team, but it also shows my customers my role isn’t a faceless one, and I am just as involved in the day-to-day running as my team.”

Reflecting on her own journey so far, Heather is keen to also encourage other women into the automotive industry.

“If someone had told me 10 years ago I would be here now, I would have laughed, but here I am. Yes, it has been hard at times, and I’ve really had to go back to basics in terms of learning about the products and services on offer, but what I’ve accomplished so far really is testament that you can do anything if you are prepared to take that chance and work for it.

“For me a moment of clarity came when I realised the biggest barrier, was me. For a long time I had pigeon holed myself, often not recognising that the skillset I had developed throughout my time in retail was also transferable; providing me with some great foundations to build on.

“For a lot of people who are considering taking the next step in their career, or thinking about entering a new industry, they think that that need to constantly be climbing and moving forward. However, if switching roles has taught me anything it’s that when an opportunity like this arises grab it, even if it feels like a little step back, often it becomes an even bigger step forwards.”

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