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As Bike Week nears 100, effective marketing key

  • Chad Ferreira of Groton spends his second Fathers Day with his 15-month-old daughter Paige as train riders disembark from the train at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H., on Sunday, June 15, 2014.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    Chad Ferreira of Groton spends his second Fathers Day with his 15-month-old daughter Paige as train riders disembark from the train at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H., on Sunday, June 15, 2014.

    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • Charlie St. Claire, center left, greets long-time Bike Week attendee Jack Hayes at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H. Sunday, June 15, 2014.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    Charlie St. Claire, center left, greets long-time Bike Week attendee Jack Hayes at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H. Sunday, June 15, 2014.

    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • K. Peddler Bridges of Beverly, Mass hands out his publications on the boardwalk at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H. Sunday, June 15, 2014.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    K. Peddler Bridges of Beverly, Mass hands out his publications on the boardwalk at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H. Sunday, June 15, 2014.

    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • People and bikes roll down Lakeside Ave. at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H. Sunday, June 15, 2014.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    People and bikes roll down Lakeside Ave. at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H. Sunday, June 15, 2014.

    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • Left to Right:<br/>Glenn Foster, George Frankel and Jim Lull look out at the bikers passing by at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H. Sunday, June 15, 2014.<br/>They have been coming to Bike Week for the last years and stay in the same cottage on Paugus Bay.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    Left to Right:
    Glenn Foster, George Frankel and Jim Lull look out at the bikers passing by at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H. Sunday, June 15, 2014.
    They have been coming to Bike Week for the last years and stay in the same cottage on Paugus Bay.

    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • Chad Ferreira of Groton spends his second Fathers Day with his 15-month-old daughter Paige as train riders disembark from the train at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H., on Sunday, June 15, 2014.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • Charlie St. Claire, center left, greets long-time Bike Week attendee Jack Hayes at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H. Sunday, June 15, 2014.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • K. Peddler Bridges of Beverly, Mass hands out his publications on the boardwalk at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H. Sunday, June 15, 2014.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • People and bikes roll down Lakeside Ave. at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H. Sunday, June 15, 2014.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • Left to Right:<br/>Glenn Foster, George Frankel and Jim Lull look out at the bikers passing by at Bike Week on Weirs Beach in Laconia, N.H. Sunday, June 15, 2014.<br/>They have been coming to Bike Week for the last years and stay in the same cottage on Paugus Bay.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

The fact that Laconia Motorcycle Week brings hundreds of thousands of visitors and millions of dollars into New Hampshire is well known. The man who helps organize and oversee the event is using expanded marketing efforts to make sure this doesn’t change.

An increase in motorcycle rallies nationally, coupled with a lagging economy, have prompted the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association to push its marketing efforts into high gear during the offseason to continue attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Granite State. Bike Week 2014 started Friday and is expected to bring in 250,000 people and pump upwards of $100 million into the state’s economy before it ends next Sunday.

“The competition for the visitors to come here is the fiercest it’s ever been,” said Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association. He’s been the head of the organization since 1992, when there were about 50 motorcycle rally weeks in the country. Now there are about 600, he said, and each one wants to attract visitors who will stay at local hotels, eat at local restaurants and sightsee at tourist destinations.

“All these state tourism boards and promoters for these events are very, very active around the country saying, ‘Don’t go there. Come here,’ ” he said.

Promotion is now a full-time job for the nonprofit association’s two-person staff, he said.

“We have to continuously keep being out there and in their radar saying, ‘Hey, this is where you want to go. This is what we’ve got going on in Laconia,’ ” he said.

He delivers that message in many forms.

St. Clair’s winter included stops at international motorcycle shows in Cleveland, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Florida and other locations. The Laconia Rally News, a twice-a-year publication, keeps fans up to date and informed about the rally and New Hampshire. Social media campaigns have generated a Facebook page with more than 27,000 “likes.”

About 430,000 people went to Bike Week in 2004, the most in its 91-year history. In 2012, about 330,000 people attended. Bad weather led to a lower-than-expected turnout last year, St. Clair said.

“Since 2004, it’s been a real roller coaster. The economy has something to do with it, then throw in the competition on top of that and it’s been tough,” he said.

The event is considered a major statewide draw. Gov. Maggie Hassan was among state officials who attended a kick-off event last week touting the rally’s economic impact. Hundreds of workers descend on the area for the week, and the event is a boon to the state’s room, meal and liquor taxes.

For 20 years, Larry Chesley has sold sausage and peppers, steak and cheese, turkey legs and squeezed lemonade from a perch on Lakeside Avenue during Bike Week.

“We always do well here,” Chesley said yesterday from behind the grill. “Yesterday was a little light. Friday we were a wash because it rained all day, but today has been a good day. A lot of people here.”

His family has three stations at Bike Week, and Chesley said he’ll have eight people working all week.

“This is my living. This is what I do. That’s why I keep coming back,” he said.

For different reasons, other riders said they’ll keep coming back.

K. Peddlar Bridges of Beverly, Mass., was up yesterday for his 35th-straight year. A heart attack during Bike Week in 2002 couldn’t keep him away. “I have priorities. Laconia Bike Week is a priority,” he said.

Bridges sported a long gray beard and eyeglasses underneath his sunglasses while handing out copies of his magazine, New England Power Sports Post.

“To me it’s a pilgrimage. It used to be a little different in the old days, dare I say. People used to show up standing on their seats or doing wheelies and burnouts,” he said. “Today, it’s much more sedate but it’s still a pilgrimage. It’s the beginning of the year and time to show you are still here.”

Camaraderie and fun have kept Jack Hayes and Heidi Thompson of Plymouth coming back since the 1950s.

“People come from all over. They all come down and we get together every year and have a good time,” Hayes said.

With its 100th anniversary slated for 2023, the association and its board of directors have what they hope is a reliable marketing hook for the future. This year’s Bike Week coincided with the launch of a petition asking people to support a Bike Week 100th anniversary vanity plate. The goal is to get 50,000 signatures and present it to legislators, St. Clair said.

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com.)

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