Bad Boy Wichita Tractor sold 30-plus mowers during a 5-hour “Bad Boy Mowers” special event.

Dealers share what works best to build awareness, relationships and sales with rural lifestyle equipment buyers.

Dealership special events can be like throwing a fancy, expensive party with no guarantee that anyone will show up. In your business, a special event that’s a flop could mean dismal sales and wasted time, energy and money. The upside: Successful special events can lead to record sales, improved customer relationships and more.

How can you get the most from your special events? Rural Lifestyle Dealer readers share tips and strategies for how they’ve been successful, year after year.

Leverage Your Dealership Strengths

What kind of special event is right for you? Showing off your strengths is a good place to start. Wichita Tractor Co., for example, has established itself as one of the nation’s leading Bad Boy mower dealers. Bad Boy is a national sponsor of the Professional Bull Riders (PBR). When a PBR event came to Wichita, Kan., and held it just four miles from the dealership, an in-store promotion was a natural fit. And, what an event it was, thanks to the support of Bad Boy and the PBR. The “fan zone” included bull riders signing autographs, 20-foot tall balloon mascots, mechanical bulls, Marine-sponsored NASCAR show car and more.

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Advertising Strategies to Draw in Buyers

Innovative Event Ideas That Work

“We cleared our lot. The trucks pulled in and we looked at what size and what shape and started setting things up,” says Don McCullough, a Wichita Tractor owner.

The event wasn’t all for show. The dealership kept its focus on making sales, and set up a mower test drive area. Bad Boy representatives were there to answer questions, while 5 salespeople met with customers. They sold more than 30 mowers during the five-hour event.

“It was the best day of sales we’ve ever had,” says McCullough.

You don’t need balloon mascots or bull riders to have a successful event. Sometimes, you just need a “Chester,” as in Chester Snyder. Chester is part of the family-owned Charles S. Snyder dealership in Tamaqua, Penn. The dealership celebrated 70 years in business last fall with an open house, discounts, food, free t-shirts and more. Nancy Knadler, co-owner and Chester’s sister, says they “added a twist” to the event, thanks to Chester’s good nature and ever-present bib overalls.

Dealer Takeaways

“We had a ‘Chester lookalike contest’ and gave away a free Toro snow blower to the lookalike that got the most votes. Voting was done by our customers who came into the shop that month. We actually had 19 people dress up like Chester.”

Do Sales Events Work?

The Home Depot certainly believes they do. The retailer is doubling its “Spring Black Friday” promotions in the U.S. vs. last year, and is hiring more than 60,000 temporary workers to prepare for a busy spring selling season. Each store is dedicating one weekend to “door busting” sales on some of its most popular spring items, including lawn care equipment, plants and seeds, barbecue grills, patio furniture and other products.

Voting was low-tech and friendly. People dropped a ticket into a jar to vote. Toro paid for half the snow blower, keeping the prize cost down.

Knadler says they also asked people to send in photos of themselves with equipment

they had purchased over the years. The photos generated a lot of discussion — and memories — and brought people into the dealership. The anniversary event underscored the family atmosphere of the dealership and its place in the community, says Knadler, who shares that it’s brought out stories of multi-generational sales relationships.

“My dad sold to their dad. Now, we’re selling directly to them, and my niece’s husband is selling to their kids,” she says.

Demo Day

C&N Tractors’ “Demo Day” focuses on getting prospects driving the equipment and has netted $300,000 in sales over a single weekend.

Understand the Goal

Selling equipment is the ultimate goal for dealership events, but Elder Implement of Houghton, Iowa, ranks customer education as a priority.

“We find our events are more successful because our goal is to educate rather than make a sale – and our customers appreciate the atmosphere this philosophy creates,” says Ashley Klopfenstein, advertising and event coordinator for Elder Implement.

The dealership does a yearly plan for its variety of big and small events but adapts when there’s a new idea. For instance, a person in the parts department suggested the dealership hold a John Deere birthday event, complete with cake and decorations. The event’s goal was to invite people into the dealership to see all it has to offer, such as handheld power equipment.

Understanding the buyer’s goal is as important as knowing your own. Like many dealerships, John Cooper, an owner of C&N Tractors, Watsonville, Calif., holds an annual “Demo Day,” each spring. The event brings in big sales numbers -— $300,000 for a weekend. Cooper says the events haven’t always been that successful. He used to hold them off-site in a field, where customers could test equipment.

“We found that people don’t really want to roto-till or mow. They want to know if they can drive a tractor,” he says. Now, they clear out their lot and have salespeople work with customers on the mechanics of driving. Cooper says there’s another major benefit to having people at the dealership.

“It’s nice for people to see our shop and our huge parts department,” he says, which helps differentiate them from start-ups or other retail choices that lack these resources.

Tractor Ride Elder Implement has dovetailed its own events onto other promotions, including serving as a “rest area” for participants in radio-sponsored tractor riding tours.

Be Creative

Larry Krystowski, co-owner of Krystowski Tractor Sales, Wellington, Ohio, says even the name of the event can dictate its success. That’s why he holds “Ride N Drive” events, as opposed to open houses. Krystowski wants people to attend that are interested in the equipment, not just the free food. The sales approach is low key.

“We stress that we absolutely do not have our selling hats on that day, just our fun hats,” says Krystowski. How does he make sure that message comes across? Krystowski voices his own radio ads, taking care not to sound scripted. He uses an affordable AM station that has a targeted local reach. The station also does a remote broadcast during the event.

The publicity has paid off. When one event was really slow at mid-day, the disc jockey offered free Cleveland Indians tickets to the next person who arrived at the dealership.

“Immediately, and I mean immediately, two cars from different directions screeched their tires as they raced into our driveway,” says Krystowski. He says they stayed to drive and talked about the fun they were having on the radio broadcast. “Cars kept coming in for the balance of the afternoon,” he says. “We never wondered again about the value of a live radio broadcast during an event.”

Creativity can simply be a different approach to traditional events, such as gearing workshops to a new audience.

Targeting Women, Families

Theriault Equipment, Presque Isle, Maine, held its first women’s clinic last year. “We had a small turnout, but we had a lot of talk about it from other customers. I think the women in attendance must have told all their friends how much they enjoyed it,” says Marvin Ouellette, sales manager for the dealership. He says many brought their husbands along, who looked at equipment while waiting.

Elder Implement is considering a “Ladies Night” event this year.

“We get a lot of great questions from our female customers who are interested in learning more about our lawn and garden products and services and we’re sure even more people have the same concerns,” says Klopfenstein.

Elder Implement is considering taking it a step further with family events, based on customer suggestions.

“We’ve also been looking into hosting birthday parties for kids. Birthday parties are a great way to introduce the younger generation to everything we have to offer and give us a chance to teach product and equipment safety,” she says.

Think about ways to coordinate in-store events with out-of-store happenings. For instance, Knadler says the steer they buy at the county fair is then served at their open house. Elder Implement offers one in-store event as part of a separate community event. It serves as a rest stop on Iowa’s annual tractor drive, which is sponsored by a radio station.

Repeat What Works

Not every event has to be new. Many dealers have had success with the same events year after year.

“Every year we do at least six days of pancakes and sausage, offering varying discounts on parts, oil, service and equipment purchased during the event. It brings in big crowds,” says Gene Saville of Lamb & Webster, Springville, N.Y.

Knadler says they also repeat events, but may take a year off. For example, the store holds a “show and tell” clinic, where staff demonstrates how to check mower oil and other service tasks. “We won’t hold it this year. It gets too repetitive to do year after year,” she says. What about those events that didn’t do so well, but may still be a great idea?

“You need to have an event more than once to gauge the true response,” says Klopfenstein. “If you do it a couple of years and build that relationship, it’s almost habit-forming.”

Bucky Ferguson has seen that happen with the annual Hot Dog Day at Patrick Tractor Co., Tifton, Ga. The first event served 30-40 people.

“We just had our 4th annual and we served lunch to over 170 people. We had a wide variety of customers ranging from farmers to rural lifestylers to USDA and Univ. of Georgia experiment station workers, many of whom are customers themselves,” says Ferguson.

Ferguson promotes parts and service specials during this particular event. They ask FFA members to help serve food, in exchange for a donation to the chapter.

“We don’t usually sell wholegoods at the event, but do get some conversations started that later lead to sales.”

Supporting Strategies

Advertising and other promotions are critical to the success of an event. People won’t show up if they don’t know it’s happening.

“What seems to work best in advertising is ‘Repeat, repeat, repeat,’” says Quint Campbell of Birkey’s Farm Store, Rantoul, Ill.

Many dealers use a mix of print, radio, TV, direct mail and e-mail. Announcing events through Facebook and then posting photos afterward is also becoming a good approach.

Then, make sure you have the staff you need and processes in place for the big day. Krystowski, for example, has 16 mowers available to drive at his event. He makes sure every customer driver has a staff member guiding them. Elder Implement salespeople do presentation run-throughs to the dealership staff before the event. Cooper says to get your facility ready, too.

“The dealership must be in tip-top condition — waxed floors, clean and neat, everything very presentable,” says Cooper. Plan for bad weather, too. Think about whether you can move some activities inside or even perhaps plan for a back-up date.

Don’t Forget the Fun

Special events require a lot of planning for the theme, food, training, timing, advertising and more. Don’t forget one more key ingredient: fun. Entertaining activities will keep customers at your event longer, giving you more time to engage with them.

Dean Meyer, who manages the power sports division at Waconia Farm Supply, says its open house for landscapers or large estate owners has mower games. One challenge is to drive through a course without dropping a ball that sits on a tray in front of the mower.

Other events make customers feel special and can expand on existing relationships. For instance, the dealership has a business-owners night, where fellow chamber members are invited to shop after hours.

“Our special events are a relatively inexpensive way to stay in front of our customer,” says Meyer. The dealership is also an Ace Hardware store and has a greenhouse, so events help show the variety of products they offer, large and small.

Loren Fairbanks of Fairbanks International in Kearney, Neb., thought of a fun idea the morning of an event. A Case IH dealership, Fairbanks had recently traded for a John Deere tractor. Seeing it in the wash bay triggered a brainstorm that morning.

“I thought, ‘Why not shoot a Deere?’” he says. He quickly went to the local hobby store and bought an expensive paintball set. Shooters stood about 50 feet away and aimed for the John Deere symbol. Those who hit it won a free cap.

“You need to get attendees involved. You need people laughing. You don’t want observers,” says Fairbanks. “They’ll feel comfortable and be willing to come back and continue with the sales process.”

Closing the Sale

Although some have experienced record sales, others say special events are like any sales strategy. They take time to work. A customer may not actually make the purchase until 6 months or a year later. McCullough still believes they are worth it.

“A special event gives urgency to buy and to sell,” he says, noting he’s planning their second Bad Boy-PBR in-store event this fall. RLD

Reynolds Drivers passing by Reynolds Farm Equipment in Fishers, Ind., last summer couldn’t help but notice the dealership’s tent event that featured a sale on lawn mowers, lawn tractors and other lifestyle equipment.

Advertising Strategies to Draw in Buyers

Building event awareness is a must-do to fill your dealership with prospective buyers. With so many options, what are the most effective advertising strategies? There’s no one correct answer. But strategies can — and should -— change based on the event.

The best success seems to come from layering promotion strategies and repeating messages. For larger events, radio, TV and newspaper ads can spread the word to a wide audience. Many dealers begin airing the ads about 14 days before the event, continuing through the week of the event.

Integrate these mass media promotions with more targeted approaches. For example, John Cooper of C&N Tractor, Watsonville, Calif., uses direct mail targeted to specific zip codes, sending out 20,000–30,000 mailers for large events. Others use mailing lists in which the recipients have been categorized, such as rural lifestyle, landscaper, light construction and others.

Take advantage of all your internal communication methods, including newsletters, web sites and special emails. Social media is becoming an important tool, as dealers use Facebook to announce events and then post photos afterward.

Having that creative kick can make a difference. Dustin Fussnecker of Fussnecker & Sons Tractor Sales, Russellville, Ohio, ends his radio advertising with “Call Trusty Dusty.”

“This personalization sparked so much interest and amusement,” says Fussnecker.

Consider a “mention this ad” discount or a coupon, so you can begin tracking which methods are most effective. And, don’t be afraid to turn to outside experts for help with strategies or just developing the ads and direct mail pieces. Check on whether there is co-op money to help cover costs.

Factor in old-fashioned word of mouth, too.

Quint Campbell of Birkey’s Farm Store, Rantoul, Ill., devised a schedule of invitation/postcards 2 weeks in advance, followed by a newspaper ad one week before and personal phone calls 2 days in advance. “We also remind customers when they are in the store.”

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Innovative Event Ideas That Work

Need some new ideas to energize your dealer events? Here’s a round-up of ideas that work from a survey of your fellow Rural Lifestyle Dealer readers:

  • Open house or customer appreciation events, with interesting add-ons, such as local vendors displaying items (boot shop) or activities for kids (bouncy houses)
  • Children birthday parties, with safety focus
  • Events coordinated with 4-H or FFA
  • Fall and winter open houses to showcase chain saws, snow blowers and related equipment
  • Holiday tie-ins, such as photos with Santa, Easter egg hunt
  • How-to seminars
  • Horse-owner workshops
  • Hot dog days
  • Husband-and-wife events
  • Invitation-only events to reach specific audiences
  • Special celebrations surrounding manufacturers’ birthdays or anniversaries
  • Live radio broadcasts
  • Multiple demo days targeted to different equipment
  • Pancake and sausage breakfasts
  • Pink equipment events to “fight against breast cancer”
  • Safety clinics
  • Barbecues, pig roasts
  • Test drive events
  • Women’s workshops

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Pancakes Pancake breakfasts served by dealership staff, like this one prepared by technicians at Birkey’s Farm Stores, are common events among equipment dealers.