Chris Frodel, Mid-State Equipment

Special events can help increase customer traffic to your dealership. These days, getting the word out about your event has never been easier. In addition to advertising in local media, your dealership's web site and social media pages can provide a valuable opportunity to promote a new event at your dealership.

But what type of events should you host?

One of my favorite ideas was reported on in the Summer 2009 issue, when Rural Lifestyle Dealer visited Mid-State Equipment in Janesville, Wis. A well-known dealer of production ag equipment, the dealership took a unique approach to attracting the business of rural consumers including hosting a "Ladies Night," which had 90 potential customers packing the showroom on a Thursday night.

Illustrating the rapid rise of Facebook is the fact that when that issue of Rural Lifestyle Dealer was printed, the web site had around 300 million users. Since that time, the number has grown to more than 800 million worldwide.

Below are excerpts from the article written by John Dobberstein. The entire article can be read here.

— Chad Elmore

Fresh Ideas Bring Customers in the Door

An event that took place at an ag equipment dealership in Janesville, Wis., would raise the eyebrows of most dealer-principals.

About 90 women packed the showroom during a special event at Mid-State Equipment's rental/consumer store and spent two hours getting tips about landscaping and outdoor power equipment maintenance. The scent of aromatherapy products wafted in the air, courtesy of a co-op grocery store that participated.

Promoted publicly for several weeks, the event won over some new customers for Mid-State, and word got out about the dealership's outreach efforts with rural lifestyle customers in the region. Most of the women admitted that they'd never stepped foot in the building, which sits about 200 yards away from Mid-State's production-ag focused dealership.

"I was ecstatic about getting 90 people here on a Thursday night," says Chris Frodel, Mid-State's vice president. "It got people in our facility to see everything we have to offer."

A New Building for New Customers

Mid-State Equipment — a store organization founded in 1974 — acquired its ag-focused dealership, just outside of Janesville, in 2000 to capitalize on the presence of high-caliber farm customers in the area and continue building a footprint in southern Wisconsin. The company also saw potential to serve commercial and residential customers in the region's cities and resort areas.

But the dealership wasn't set up to serve rural lifestyle customers, even as more and more urbanites began to invade the countryside.

Rather than cram lawn-and-garden equipment and staff into the existing ag dealership, Mid-State spent $1 million to build an 11,500 square-foot, free-standing dealership that caters to horse farms, fruit-and-vegetable growers and large-property owners in the region.

"A lot of the time, the perception is that since we're the John Deere dealer, we're about big iron and big ag," Frodel says of Mid-State, which has four additional locations in Wisconsin. "What we're trying to do here is to attract rural lifestyle and commercial customers and separate that from the large ag."

Catering to customers with horse farms in southeastern Wisconsin has been key for Mid-State, especially as mid-box competitors like Tractor Supply Co. have entered the fray.

Two years ago, Mid-State hosted a fashion show for horse riders at its rural lifestyle building. About two-dozen people attended, which wasn't the greatest turnout but probably sparked some ideas. "We coordinated other horse organizations in town, we brought in saddles, some younger riders and had a fashion show with different things they would wear when they were showing horses," Frodel says. "That brought in a whole different set of customers that hadn't been in here before."

For the "Ladies Night" event, the organizers contact other businesses in the community to work with Mid-State on the event in attracting a female audience.

Seeing an opportunity to showcase their own businesses, a greenery and co-op grocery store agreed to participate. They put flyers in customers' bags about the event, and the local radio and newspaper also promoted it.

Invitations were sent to customers through the dealership's mailing list. Some of the households only had a man's name listed, so Mid-State addressed them to the "lady of the house" if there wasn't a female name available, Frodel says.

Green also convinced local businesses to donate dozens of door prizes, including spa gift certificates, free health club memberships, gardening supplies or flowers. Mid-State donated a weed trimmer.

The gathering was billed as a chance for women to learn maintenance skills in an environment they were comfortable with.

But they got much more than that. When they arrived, the women were greeted with a glass of sparkling organic cider, chocolate fountains and appetizers. And for two hours, the women traveled to four stations to learn basic techniques for lawn and equipment maintenance.

At the lawn-and-garden station, they learned how to check the oil and sharpen blades on a mower. At the small-handheld-power-equipment station, they learned how to reload a string trimmer and determine what machines need a gas-oil mix. A local plant nursery hosted a session on spring landscaping ideas and how to prep soil for planting. The co-op grocery store hosted a session on aromatherapy.

"We had nice gift bags made up with a bunch of different items. Half of the women left with something," Frodel says. "We were trying to make it a fun event, not just a learning event."

Mid-State plans to hold the event again next year, possibly in late May or June, so some ride-and-drive activities can be organized outdoors. The company also plans to hold similar "Ladies Night" events at two other dealerships.

Frodel says the customer base has grown tremendously at the rural lifestyle store because of the special marketing events. "If customers have a good experience, they tell somebody. They tell their neighbor, they tell somebody at church. That's what keeps us going — new people coming through the door."