Secrets to a Successful Open House

As today’s boat shows become more expensive and the returns become more questionable, many dealers are turning to in-house boat shows, or open houses, as an additional effective marketing outlet.
Boat shows do offer dealers significant exposure from a marketing standpoint, but open houses display notable advantages over off-site boat shows. Specifically:
• Your advertising brings your prospects through your doors and not to a convention center where all of your competition is displaying product.
• You eliminate the high cost of transporting your product to a location remote from your dealership.
• You eliminate the cost of transporting and feeding your sales staff and other support employees.
• It is easier to manage an event if you are in total control of the event, space and agenda.
• You are able to display more products than you would be able to offer at a boat show.
• It is easier to pre-qualify your prospects at open houses as opposed to boat shows.
• At an open house, you don’t run the risk of people who may be wasting your time because they’re interested in a type of boat you do not offer.
• You are able to gather follow-up information from everyone who enters through your door.
It’s important to note, however, that a successful open house does require certain specific steps or action plans to attain maximum results. The planning can be as complex and time-consuming as that required for a boat show. With this fact in mind, let’s look at some specific areas that will help you conduct a successful open house.
First and foremost, you need to develop a theme for your show that will give your prospects a reason to attend. It’s the old “What’s in it for me?” adage. Here are some examples of themes that may work for you:
• Introduction of new models as a VIP event
• Events that benefit charities
• Model closeouts
• Events that offer special financing terms
• On-the water events that offer free demos
• Events that offer boating experts as the centerpiece of the open house, such as world champion fisherman or water-skiers
• Offer anything that is free — free is always good. The second thing you should consider is advertising. Ideally, your advertising needs to start at least two weeks before the open house. You want sufficient time to get the impressions out there and to build interest around your event. A few suggestions for advertising your open house include:
• Direct mail to everyone on your mailing list.
• Make sure that your advertising strongly features “Call to Action” messages that support your theme.
• Structure your advertising message in a way that will enable you to track your advertising results. An example would be a coupon included in the direct-mail piece that would entitle the bearer to a special discount.
Of course, event execution is also critical. Your showroom must convey a sense of occasion and your staff must project the excitement and energy surrounding the open house. Here are a few additional tips that will help you to execute a successful event:
• Redo your showroom for the event to ensure it indicates that you are serious about the promotion. Special banners and displays supporting your theme are an absolute must.
• Conduct showroom events. Have drawings for door prizes every hour. This will entice the prospects to hang around and look some more for their next boat.
• Be generous with your refreshments. If you appear to be a cheapskate, your prospects will associate your dealership with that image. Be cautious, however, with alcoholic drinks. You are legally responsible for your prospects becoming intoxicated as a result of your event.
• Make sure that all of your employees clearly understand why you are holding this open house. They must be aware of what is expected of each and every one of them. Any special pricing must be given in writing to all salespeople. The same holds true for any special incentives such as lower financing rates or free options.
• Establish sales goals for all salespeople prior to your event. Provide rewards for those who sell the first boat or the most boats. Also provide rewards for those who turn in the most qualified leads. You will sell lots of boats after the event if you have a solid follow-up database.
• Have a debriefing session at the end of each day. Discuss the previous day’s activities and brainstorm ideas to make the balance of the event more successful.
A properly planned open house can give dealers as much marketing exposure as a national boat show, without the competition, hassle of travel and unqualified leads.
Noel Osborne is an expert in the field of small business profitability and customer service delivery systems. He has developed industry-specific management systems, has been instrumental in authoring and delivering dealership training programs for Yamaha Marine Group and also provides management consulting services under the banner of Osborne and Associates.

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