Through the Eyes Of the Bold, Part 32

In the last number of posts, we have been focused on promotions of various products to enhance sales and profits. Now, I will move on to other promotions onsite and offsite.

I will start with what I have seen in the industry as the most popular promotion, which is the "customer appreciation/vendor display event." I've seen a number of modifications on this theme. Basically, here's how it goes: The dealership will put on a customer appreciation event that will be on the commercial lot area, and vendors will be invited to be on hand to answer any questions. The vendors are asked to chip in to participate in the event by paying a specified amount of money and to show up and stand by a display to be able to answer questions from all the customers and prospects that will be coming by. It is usually done between 10:30am and 2:00pm, with lunch served between 11:30am and 1:00pm. Lunch can be hot dogs and hamburgers to something more elaborate like a custom barbecue--perhaps even catered. The vendors typically are asked to chip in from $100 to $400 for the event. In addition, flyers are to be mailed out and phone calls are to be made along with other promotional spots to get good attendance at the event. The goal, of course, is several sales right away, additional sales soon and in the near future, and more exposure to prospects who have perhaps never been to the dealership.

The goal and reality are quite often different. I would have to say that out of all of these kind of events that I have participated in, I can count only a very few that have worked well. The main reason for failure is lack of sufficient planning and promoting the promotion. There isn't much worse than having this kind of event, having all these vendors pay and show up and then have very few people that the event is for show up. I did one myself that I thought I planned for well where I sent out 10,000 invitations and about 50 people showed up. It's embarrassing while the vendors are looking at you with that, "I wasted this whole day to be here for this?" attitude. So, with all these experiences, I have developed some pointers about this kind of event. For what it is worth (and it can be a great deal!), here they are:
  • This kind of event can work very well to promote your store, your commercial department and inventory, your service department and more. The event can be very beneficial.
  • Define what the draw is. Why would people take time out of their busy day to come to the dealership for this event? The bigger the draw, the better the event. Having BigFoot, or some similar vehicle, or a race car, or a sports star all help a lot. Why would they come? Why should they come? A big enough draw will create a spectacular event.
  • Think of this as a carnival. What makes a great carnival? Lots of people, noise, sounds, voices, things happening. A good carnival has lots of enthusiasm and a lot of interesting things to see and touch. It is the experience that is out of the ordinary. What if you had a rock band? What if you could get Tiger Woods to show up and give autographs? That would change your event! The draw is the most important thing to a great event. Spend time brainstorming on it and find several great draws.
  • First rule: over planning is better than under planning. Do not try to pull this kind of event off in two months or less. I highly recommend that you plan these way out in the future, like six months to a year at least.
  • Second rule: make sure the dealership is behind the promotion. Having people pulling the rope in opposite directions will make things very complicated and tiresome. Get participation from all departments on this event. Yes, service. Yes, parts. Yes, detail. Yes, retail. Yes, the whole store. You may do the most work, but you want all to participate.
  • If you are going to ask vendors to put up cash for this event, make sure that you are a good customer of theirs. It is amazing how many will ask vendors they don't even like and don't want to do business with to participate. It's tacky to say the least. If you cannot afford to support the event alone, then I recommend that you avoid doing the event. Having the vendors chip in should be a bonus or help reimburse costs only, but with a strong concept of this paying off for them.
  • If you are serving food, make sure there is enough of everything. Better to have left overs than not enough food and drink. If you are inviting people to come there at lunch time to eat, we better have food to feed them. Plan the expense accordingly. It is also good to feed your whole team at this event.
  • In the 30 days prior to the event, begin your ad campaign. You should have a multiple avenue strategy. Print some flyers and hand them out at the parts department, in service, in retail, all over the dealership. Make sure there is sufficient "white space." White space causes focus.
  • A flyer should go out in the mail to your database about 15 days prior to the event. At about 7 days, newspaper ads should begin promoting the event. Use a synergistic approach and combine your communications for maximum effectiveness.
  • At 10 days, begin telephone campaign and continue to the event time. Make sure you have a core group of people who will show up. This should be your customer base. Ask them to bring some associates and friends.
  • This is a great time to add radio promotion prior to and during the event. To have an onsite radio remote is a very good plan to supplement your other advertising. It is about the only way you can get people to come spontaneously.
  • Prizes. This is a good draw with your advertising. Food and prizes. It's the old one-two punch. Make the prizes worth winning and make sure there are a lot of them. Get creative about your prizes so they are fun and interesting. If everyone could win something, that would be the ideal situation. I am sure it won't be close to that, but have lots of prizes. Have a few larger prizes. You can gather them during the year, a few here and a few there. Vendors can help too (the ones you buy from).
  • Make sure music is playing constantly. Music relaxes people and has them take their time. Play some great music that is universally pleasant.
  • Make sure you have an emcee or master of ceremonies to do the speaking to the crowd. The music goes down, the emcee speaks, the music is back. Keep it flowing. No stammering or can't find the right words--get a good speaker to handle this. If you must hire one, please do so. The emcee is important.
  • Make sure you have a good sound system. If you don't own one, hire it out (recommended). This is extremely important to plan for. It should have sufficient volume to be heard well at the farthest point of your displays. Use good quality microphones that avoid feedback. Make sure something is going on all the time with music interludes. This is one great reason for all the prizes so that you can keep giving small things away throughout the event with the large things given away when most people are there for maximum effect.
  • Make sure the event starts on time and ends on time.
  • Make sure that parking is easy and plentiful, and if it isn't, work a valet system.
  • Don't have any dead space where there is no music playing or talking by the emcee. When this happens, the party is over.
  • Try to have a very short meeting slightly ahead of the event where all the vendors meet with you for last minute details. Also, make sure to get feedback from every vendor prior to them leaving. A simple way to do this is have a simple form for them to fill out. What they liked, didn't like, number of people they talked to, any good prospects, etc. You will want the same from your other departments within the dealership. You will want to know how the event went from as many perspectives as you can.
  • Make sure you have enough help. This kind of event is a lot of work and it is easy for too much of the work to be done by too few people. Plan for this and get the help. More is better. Be the event planning expert, not the get everything done person.
  • Delegate. Assign tasks and follow up.
  • This kind of event can be costly. Another reason to make it work by serious planning and meticulous execution. Here's a good time to ask this question: Taking the total cost of this event in dollars into consideration, is this a good use of the funds, or is there a better use with greater payoff?
  • Make sure your entire team filters through the event and mingles with the prospects, customers and vendors. Make sure and thank them for coming to the event. Pull out your best enthusiasm and wear it well. Make sure the dealer and general manager are there at some point as well.
  • It is great to invite your factory reps of the makes you sell.
  • This is probably best during the week and probably best not on a Monday or Friday.
  • Assign someone to take a massive number of photos to record the event and to be able to use those pictures in ads or in other ways.
  • Send thank you cards for all of the people who helped including the vendors.

Through the eyes of the bold, this can be a great event. . . if. . . It will be when you plan it well and plan it well in advance. Good hunting!

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