Ten of the best dealer events

It could be argued that boat dealers are at a disadvantage when it comes to events. The products they sell are synonymous with fun and entertainment, so how does a dealership come up with an activity that could be any better or more memorable than simply getting out on the water with family and friends on a beautiful day?

Doing so certainly takes a lot of planning and hard work, but that hasn’t stopped dealerships around the country from coming up with unique ideas, or twists on other concepts, that keep their customers entertained and coming back again and again.

Here, in no particular order, are ten of the best dealer events we’ve come across over the years:

1. Wake Wars was the name of the very successful summer event Michigan’s Action Water Sports held last year in conjunction with an upscale restaurant and bar in downtown Grand Rapids. A pool was brought to the restaurant’s parking lot — along with sand for beach volleyball and to create a beach feel — and top pro wakeboarders from across the country came to compete. They were pulled across the pool by a winch, which allowed them to hit rails and do tricks for the spectators. The cost to the dealership was minimal because it partnered with other area companies as well as its own wakeboard manufacturers. Action received news coverage on a local television channel, on the radio and also the Internet.

The company said the event was similar to others it holds at its Fenton, Mich. location, but on a larger scale. Hot tubs were brought in by a local pool company for people to relax in and there were other pools with water trampolines for kids to play on, a lounge pool, a BMX track with pro riders, and professional trampoline jumpers to entertain the audience.

The goal was to get people to come spend their Saturday in the city vs. going to the beach, so a lot of activities were available for the whole family.

2. For 25 years Short’s Marine Inc. has entertained the public on Labor Day with a three-day event, featuring a large discount on new, used and consignment boats.

Customers travel from several nearby states for the sale and begin lining up early Saturday morning. “The 8 a.m. gate opening is a mad rush,” according to Donald Short, the company’s president. Boats are tagged with the Labor Day discount and the model’s details. When a tag is grabbed from the boat, it is considered sold. A SMI sales consultant answers any questions and the customer goes to the business office for F&I assistance.

Once the deal is approved, the boat is given a bright orange “SOLD” tag. Boats are monitored for missing tags, and if a vessel does not have a sold tag — and the sale tag has been missing for an hour — sales consultants are contacted and an announcement is made for the tag location. If no one responds, a new tag is placed on the product.

Over 550 boats, pontoons, PWCs, motors and trailers were on display at the 2008 event, and the company generated a tremendous amount of revenue from those products. In addition, it offers a flea-market-style area where it says everything a boater could need or want is displayed under one of six tents and available at clearance prices.

Local businesses increase their staffing to meet the increased traffic the event generates and, with thousands of people attending, it is a recognized and welcomed economic spike for the local community, according to the dealership. The event also serves to unite employees as Short’s says it focuses them on a common goal and they work together for the “final big push of the season.”

3. The Yankees/Red Sox rivalry takes many forms. One of the most unique is the “Fishing Fans Shootout” Maine’s Port Harbor Marine holds each year in conjunction with a local sports radio show. The one-day tournament pits local Red Sox fans against local Yankees fans, and hundreds vie to participate.

Two years ago, the Yankees team was headed by honorary captain Stump Merrill, a former Yankees manager and loyal Port Harbor customer, while the Red Sox team was captained by the radio station’s morning show host.

No matter which team wins, Port Harbor is victorious as well, thanks to the publicity the event generates.

4. Indiana’s B&E Marine partnered with Sea Ray and Cummins/ Mercruiser to host its Joystick Boat Control Event. Four Joystick controlled boats were lined up, with captains onboard, and the dealership allowed people to dock the boats. There was a women’s and kid’s docking challenge, and B&E said the event was “a huge success.”

The dealership combined the event with its AquaPalooza celebration and had a DJ, moonwalk, pancake breakfast put on by the Boy Scouts and a hot dog lunch. B&E said the promoter from Mercury told them their Friday event was the best-attended on that day of the week that he had seen in 18 months of helping out at dealer events.

B&E was able to boost its attendance by having the sales team hold a call-a-thon two days before the event, contacting customers for appointments that would allow them to receive a “Fast Pass” so they would not have to wait in line. B&E provided pizza during the call sessions, and every time a salesperson would make an appointment, he or she would mark it on a board, then spin a wheel for the chance to win a variety of prizes. Over 50 appointments were set.

5. Modeled after famous recording artist Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Parks Marina held its first ever Cobalt “All-White” Party a couple of years ago. The Okoboji, Iowa-based dealership created a “white wonderland” inside the showroom with lots of white drapery, florals and globes hanging from the ceiling. By invitation only, clients, dressed in all white, came for wine, food, music and an exclusive unveiling of Cobalt’s newest model. The boat was draped in cloth and, to add to the fanfare, the local high school drum line marched through the dealership’s Barefoot Bar (full of patrons) directly through its large loading doors to the fully decorated glass showroom.

The party drew attention all over town, as everyone was asking why so many people were dressed in white. The event was such a hit the dealership hosted it again last year.

6. The annual “Splash Bash” at Gordy’s Lakefront Marine is the dealership’s best community-related promotional event. All of the company’s Cobalt customers are invited to a day of fun on Wisconsin’s Lake Geneva – where Gordy’s is based. The dealership’s 58-foot charter yacht, the Diamond Lady, anchors on the lake with lunch and beverages available, and customers bring their boats and families out to it for games and other activities.

Gordy’s also has shuttle boats so customers can mingle, a water park set up for all ages to enjoy, and awards for big boats, small boats, old boats and young boaters. The day’s events are followed, on shore, with an evening of cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, dinner, dancing to a steel drum band, dunk tanks for customers to sink their favorite salesman and a jumping pit for children. During the evening, a slide presentation shows photos taken during the day’s events.

Gordy’s has had over 400 guests at its evening event and says the response and participation rate has grown exponentially each year it has been held.

7. Just a few miles up the lakeshore from Gordy’s, Gage Marine — located in Williams Bay, Wis. — sets up its concrete boat launch pad as a giant dance stage and hoists a new boat in its Travelift to provide a beautifully lit backdrop during the dealership’s annual Bash on the Bay, otherwise known as Gage-a-Palooza.

The event — which Jeff Marshall, co-chairman of Monterey Boats once described as “the best customer event I have ever attended at a dealership” — is a combination of music, customer appreciation and area-wide marketing. Gage invites customers and prospects to an evening of fun on and around the lake. The dealership sponsors a large fireworks display and hires one or two bands to play music before and after the fireworks.

People crowd the piers, or anchor off the dealership’s launch area to see the show. The family friendly event even has a dedicated, raised stage just for kids. Every year since hoisting the new boat, the dealership has sold that boat, and more, because of the event and driven a huge amount of positive buzz around the community.

“We always sell a few boats from this and hear months of positive feedback,” says Bill Gage, president of Gage Marine. “It has reached the point where customers call us early in the season to make specific plans around the event.”

8. The annual Guitar Hero competition MasterCraft Dealer Services holds at its Spokane, Wash. location is, the dealership says, its best in-store event. And last year the proceedings were taken up a notch as a Rock Band competition was also added to the mix. The hugely popular video games draw a lot of people to the tournament, which takes place after a daylong boat sale. Two 12-foot video screens equipped with big speakers and a light display allow people to watch the action, and over 350 turned up to do so.

9. Located in northern New York, one would not expect a boat dealer’s best promotion to take place the weekend after New Year’s. But Hutchinson Boat Works has created an occasion for itself and its customers during what is traditionally the slowest time of the year for cold-weather dealerships.

The Boaters’ Weekend event is always held the first weekend after the new year begins and annually attracts about 200 people to Alexandria Bay, a village of 1,500, for two days of socializing and fun. Hutchinson’s works with an adjacent resort to get its customers hotel packages for the weekend and has activities starting Friday night and continuing through Saturday. Some are boating related – a boating safety course or a manufacturer’s rep from companies like Raymarine, Sea Ray or Mercruiser holding a seminar – but other times Hutchinson’s will offer a cooking class, for example.

Boaters are invited through Christmas cards the dealership sends out to anyone it has done business with in the past five years and also through flyer promotions put out to travel agents and an open invitation on its Web site. Hutchinson’s says boaters use the event to gather and meet up with their friends during the winter, and it also helps that they sell four or five boats that weekend, usually their slowest time of the year.

10. The Rock Your Dock Party created by Buckeye Marine has increased its exposure at very little cost. The Bobcaygeon, Ontario, dealership works with a local radio station to offer contest winners a one-week cottage rental, boat rentals, the use of water equipment – including a water trampoline the winner gets to keep – and a $200 gift certificate to Buckeye.

For the promotion, the dealership takes two boats and drivers, the water toys and a BBQ party to the winner’s cottage for them and 20 of their
closest friends to enjoy.

Buckeye says the contest increased its exposure by more than $10,000 in airtime simply through the costs of the prizes and services that
were donated.

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