The high price of fuel is having an effect on everything from airlines to ATVs, but it didn’t seem to affect the opening event of the 2008 Skeeter Boats Owner’s Tournament Series.
Participation in the four-day affair actually increased to 1,600 competitors, up from the 1,500 anglers who took part in 2007. The impressive turnout came as a pleasant and unexpected diversion from the marine industry’s current woes for the people at Skeeter.
“We were very surprised by the turnout because of the economy,” said Daren Cole, Skeeter Boats’ marketing manager.
But it was a welcome surprise. As Cole points out, the tournament series represents a big chunk of Skeeter’s marketing plan. All told, the June event cost about $250,000, and even after entry fees were collected, the company was still left with remaining expenses totaling $20,000.
Cole said Skeeter could justify the expense because marketing is more important than ever during tough economic times.
“When you need it the most is when you can’t afford it,” Cole said.
He isn’t the only person at Skeeter who feels that way. There are a number of people in the company with marketing backgrounds, and Cole believes their experience is one reason his budget remains healthy during the down cycle. This allows the boat brand to do something he says is important — “Position yourself for when the cycle turns up.”
Although attendance wasn’t affected by fuel costs, the price of gas wasn’t entirely unfelt at the tournament. Demo rides were curtailed somewhat because of the high cost of fuel.
However, for the most part, the tournament featured the same schedule of activities as in past years.
Keeping the customer in mind
Cole says the philosophy of the event can be summed up in one word: “hospitality.” The tournament, he says, is a chance for owners to meet firsthand in a “festival-type atmosphere” and what truly sets this family-friendly event apart are attractions including music, food and children’s activities.
Jeff Stone, Skeeter Boats’ senior vice president, described the event another way. “The tournaments are a chance to give back to customers and provide them with a good time,” he said. “It’s a thanks for their support.”
Stone said the event feels like a family reunion, with people who return annually as a vacation. It’s an approach he recommends to other marine industry businesses. “While our business is fishing and boating,” he explains, “the appeal needs to be more than just fishing.”
Cole agrees. “This event is more than just casting a line, which makes it different from a lot of other tournaments,” he said. And because most tournament participants are not avid anglers, “this might be the only tournament they attend all year.”
The 2008 series represents the 15th year Skeeter Boats has held the tournaments. The idea started with Ben Jarrett, who was then Skeeter’s promotions coordinator and is now national sales manager. Jarrett enjoyed barbecuing, so he began the tradition of customer service events centered on that activity. At the most recent owner’s tournament, Skeeter cooked over 4,000 lbs. of food.
Cole guessed that the first event might, and he stressed might, have hosted 100 boats — compared to the more than 800 that gather today. The company markets the tournaments through direct mail, targeting everyone who has registered an address with Skeeter in the past five years, as well as past attendees.
Skeeter also prints and distributes 20,000 annual “yearbooks” to its dealer network. These 45-page books show photos and results from previous years, and they promote future events.
The benefits of hosting the event go beyond customers, according to Stone. He says employees also appreciate the tournament. “It’s hot, and they work their tails off, but they enjoy it as well.” For everyone involved, he said, “It provides a break from daily routines.”
Stone describes the events as “extremely important” to Skeeter.
“I don’t know that I can put a number value on it, but it’s up there with our annual dealer meeting as far as importance to our company,” he said. “It’s a big part of building brand loyalty.”
Stone said Skeeter wants to develop a bond that goes beyond the normal customer/seller relationship. He personally takes an opportunity to meet people at the tournaments and then catch up with them year after year. Plus, Skeeter’s professional anglers are at the events, speaking and visiting with customers.
Building these types of personal relationships matters.
“Over the years,” Stone explains, “we feel like we’ve developed a strong sense of a Skeeter family, so our customers feel like they’re a part of something bigger than just buying