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Ideas often come when you’re not looking for them

Took my grandsons to H & R Trains in Pinellas Park, Fla. last weekend. It’s a store filled with Lionel and other brands. There were demo trains running, whistles tooting, train videos playing with lots of sound. The whole store had an excitement to it from the moment we walked in.

Idea: The atmosphere at H & R was clearly no accident. And, because it impressed me, my thoughts immediately went to: I wonder if our showrooms have an air of excitement when people walk in, or are they basically “dead air.” Is it worth employing sounds and activities to generate enthusiasm? It’s something to think about.

Idea: Then, I saw the sign, “Little Engineers,” in an area of the store and picked up a copy of the “Little Engineers’ Gazette.”  It described the Little Engineers Club and the fact that one Saturday each month the folks at H & R conduct classes for kids on various train subjects such as Christmas trains, a very appropriate subject for the December classes. This month, the kids will learn about tunnels and snow. Oh, yes, there is registration fee of $8 for each class and I’m told the classes are always booked up in advance! When I asked if it produces sales, the salesman smiled at me and said: “It works!” Is finding ways to keep kids interested and involved is worth considering?

There’s a rapidly growing chain of food outlets called Five Guys. They just serve good hamburgers and fries and they’re reportedly doing very well. I know, I had to wait in a fairly long line to order at a “Five Guys” in suburban Cleveland recently.

Idea: In training personnel, Five Guys puts a strong emphasis on friendly, efficient customer service. They reinforce this desired “culture” by employing a “secret shopper” program. Bottom line: If a location receives a score of “Excellent” by a secret shopper, that shift splits a bonus of $1,000! Boat dealers aren’t burger joints, but the use of creative incentives and rewards for achieving the desired “culture” within the dealership is worth considering.

Idea: Also at Five Guys they believe employees should regularly know how their business is doing. Each week, they provide the staffs of Five Guys in an area a one-page newsletter that reports the sales for the week, compares them to previous weeks as well as to the other area outlets. Regularly letting employees know how business is doing (and how their doing) works for Five Guys. Something to think about?

Finally, in the book “Why We Buy,” author Paco Underhill describes how he uses a hidden video camera to help retailers analyze how consumers act and react in their stores. For example, Underhill’s videos revealed that elderly customers simply give up after they make attempts to reach the products that are on shelves too high for them. Sales lost. The store lowered the shelves! Sales improved.

Idea: Studying a video of how customers move around the showroom or the accessory sections is worth considering.


7 comments on “Ideas often come when you’re not looking for them

  1. steve s

    Norm, great points. It’s good to see you get off the boat association stump and write a useful dealer topic. Hopefully we’ll see more of this and less politics in future blogs.

  2. dave boso

    Yea! I tried ,in my youth and 0ffered boating safety courses, bringing in experts GG aux etc. classes were free and held in my store, every tuesday eve as I recall. Two or three showed up I had coffee and donuts the works, I suspected more would come as the classes progressed, I advertised them on radio and newspaper(back when people read the paper) even ran the old Merc films. One guy was really into it and showed up every eve. later that summer I saw him in a new boat he had bought out of town. Now I don’t mean to cast the wet blanket, and I guess in some business these things work fine, but I have found that a good solid knowledge of the product, and feature, benefit works well as far as sales, as far as new customers to boating, they have to want to and all the gimmicks in the world won’t help….

  3. Schwarzel

    Norm do you know what sells boats? I do, the best service! Not some new wave “give me” program. If the boat breaks, get the customer back on the water quick as possable. He didn’t buy it to look at it on the trailer or at the dock. And if you do your job as a dealer and keep the customer running he will tell others! This helps your business grow. Those of us who are left after this year have service or we would not have made it. All the excitment in the world will not help the bad experance of bad service.

  4. Ed Foley

    You hit it out of the park and unfortunately a lot guys don’t realize it! People buy boats because they are looking for something they are not getting from the mainland. We refer to ourselves as the ‘Boating Community’ and that is exactly what boaters both seasoned and newbies want to be a part of. As Dave Boso painfully points out, people don’t buy the steak…they buy the sizzle! No offense Dave but boating safety classes are vitally important, but about as exciting as a drivers safety class. As a prime example, Marine Max became the largest dealership in the world by creating the excitement of being part of an active community. (For the record, I am not a Marine Max employee nor do I own a boat purchased at Marine Max. I simply admire their marketing model) You can buy a Sea Ray or Whaler at other dealerships, but when you buy at Marine Max you become part of their ‘family’. A smart dealership realizes that the boat a customer just bought is one of many he will own over the course of his boating career. When up-sizing or down-sizing on his next purchase he will go first to the place he feels most comfortable and feels to be a part of. He will also choose a service facility that he trusts and is welcomed. At Marine Max the purchase is only the beginning. The customer becomes part of the Marine Max community being invited to outings called ‘Get-Aways’, recieving a monthly newsletter, magazine, and other continuous promotional materials. This ‘captures’ the customer and he realizes he is a part of a community of boaters with similar interests, needs, wants and aspirations. Schwarzel is absolutely correct in that friendly, quick, competent, competitive service is a primary component of sales and after the sale loyalty, but nothing compares to being a welcome member of this great and diverse group of mariners we call the Boating Community. We all need to keep that in mind and bring more land lubbers into our community by being positive, fun, exciting, welcoming, helpful, and supportive.
    Norm, you remain ‘on point’!

  5. steve s

    Ed, agree with you on the the article but MarineMax has absolutely no “boating family or community” qualities and are the polar opposite. Earlier this year they shut down their stores down in California overnight, with the exception of one brokerage shell opertaion. Hanging out to dry more than a thousand Sea Ray owners to handle warranties through local chop shops. They have the public company funds to leave a small service opertation to handle existing warranties but lack the intergrity to do so.

  6. Ed Foley

    Steve S.,
    Speaking of the past 12-18 months in the economy we face you are absolutely correct. And to the detriment of Marine Max they strayed from their working business model that propelled them to the top in the many preceeding years. Recently, they decided to sacrifice long term loyalty, sales and creditibility for a solution to a temporary short term issue. Their poor decisions of the last couple of years does not negate the prosperity the business model provided them in many previous years. THIS is the subject at hand, not poor decisions made the past few years that strayed from a model that worked.

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