Mark’s Marine, Inc. has been hosting fishing seminars for a few years, and they have been incredibly popular with its customer base. These informal classes help fishing enthusiasts learn how to use their fishing boats – which Mark’s Marine sells – better and more often.
Now, the seminars have grown so much that Mark’s Marine doesn’t promote them anymore, because the 150-some attendees who come through word-of-mouth or experience in previous seminars fill out the showroom space Mark’s Marine uses.
The seminars are scheduled to run from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., though they usually go well past the end time. The seminar is broken into two parts with a 15-minute refreshment break in the middle and two Q&A sessions. A small stage with speakers, mics and a Powerpoint presentation are set up for the presenter. On each attendee chair is a speaker handout, store accessory catalog and a feedback form. The feedback form allows the dealership to get ideas for new topics and to see how attendees heard about the event. At this point, about half of the attendees have attended a seminar in the past and half are brand new. Parents will bring their children in and get them involved in the fishing lifestyle.
“I think the secret to it is changing up what the topics are and the speakers, so you don’t just have the same talks every year,” said Aaron Thykeson, parts and accessories manager at Mark’s Marine. “They get excited about the fishing and to learn how to fish, and there’s a lot of new boat owners that I think recognize that they don’t really know how to fish and it is more technical than they’re probably comfortable with.”
The topics are different for each seminar and alternate every other year: one year may be fish-specific seminars like salmon or lake trout, and the other year is water-specific seminars discussing regions and area lakes.
The dealership has built relationships with local fishing clubs and area experts, which helps feed a steady flow of speakers for the seminars.
“Most of them – in fact, all of them – are willing to volunteer their time so there’s no cost to us to have them speak. I think, particularly with fishermen, within certain bounds they’re eager to share their knowledge and help people catch more fish,” said Thykeson. “They might not say where their personal fishing holes are, but at least technique wise they’re willing to convey that information.”
Seminars are held in the spring, when the fishing weather is lousy in Northern Idaho, and Mark’s Marine has discussed adding a fall series.
“They have been a really great fit with our customer base and region. We’re a little bit laid back here in North Idaho so this gives us a good opportunity at building our local community and is part of the reason why we get repeat customers boat after boat,” said Thykeson.
The dealership is careful to not make the seminars a selling event, pushing product on customers. However, the catalogs are readily available and if a speaker will be discussing a certain rig or piece of gear, Mark’s Marine will be sure to have the components prominently displayed. Thykeson says that’s the key to hosting seminars: make product available, but don’t host a two-hour commercial.
Depending on the size of the audience, Mark’s Marine will offer two or three brown-bag prize giveaways during the seminar. The dealership’s two suppliers – Diversified and U.S. Distributing – donate small fishing-related prizes, and some speakers will donate lures or other gear. Mark’s Marine also adds t-shirts and other brand merchandise.
At the end of the annual series, Mark’s Marine will host a larger giveaway for all attendees of the season’s seminars.
The total cost for the dealership is the cost of its prizes, the time and energy of the salaried employees organizing the seminars, and the treats provided during breaks. And in some cases, treats aren’t a cost because attendees bring goodies to share – and even get competitive.
“It gives us a social get-together at a time of year where everyone else has pretty much hunkered down. It gets the fishing community in one place to gather together,” said Thykeson.
The seminars are also a value add for customers looking to buy a boat, especially for those new to the sport. Thykeson said the seminars have directly sold the dealership boats and rig jobs that have already been purchased. He also noted how important the seminars are to keep boaters using those boats and staying in the lifestyle.
“Fishing is a community event. If the fisherman does not use the product, he will find another hobby to get into. Too many of our new fishing customers are inexperienced. It helps get them energized and excited about the fishing product and the goodies they can rig on the fishing boat to get the most out of it,” he said. “As a major rig shop, that helps us to sell a lot of rigs and to hopefully get those fishing boat deals that might have gone to a lower-priced competitor down the road.”