SR Panel: Off-Site Events

Our panelists share some of their best and worst event experiences

Chris Ogden, General Manager
Time Machine Hot Tubs LLC!
Longview, Texas

I have participated in a variety of off-site events: parking lot sales, warehouse sales, fairs, festivals, balloon races and home shows. Hands down, the greatest return on investment, surprisingly, have been boat/RV shows. Consumers who attend these shows are coming in with a certain amount of discretionary income, and offering $5,000 to $10,000 spas compares favorably when sitting next to $50,000 boats and $250,000 motor homes. Several times over the years, I have had a spouse approach our booth and lead with the statement, “If he is going to buy that $20,000 duck hunting boat, then you better believe he’s getting me a hot tub!” The husband who argues against that is probably NOT getting his duck boat!

Boat and RV shows are typically less expensive on a square-footage basis than other types of shows. In our area, you get twice the booth size at one-third the cost. The spas complement the other outdoor products quite well, and there have been no complaints from the boat/RV dealers as most of them are already my customers and appreciate our support of their show.

For dealers in smaller cities, approach the county fair manager and ask about participating as an exempt local supporter. I have done this the past few years and received a large booth at no charge. The county fairs are willing to try and work with retailers to fill up their spaces as attendance/participation has significantly waned over the years.

My worst show ever was a senior expo. I truly thought everyone would be interested in owning a small hot tub, but almost everyone who came by my booth shook their canes at my spas and said, “I hate those things! I could fall and break my hip. Those are dangerous. Who would help me get out of that infernal contraption?!” I stayed four hours then packed up and went home. Will NEVER do again.

Michael Nekahi, co-owner
Black Pine Spas & Leisure Products
Seattle, washington

Being a company that has thrived on outside shows and events for 35 years, the best show we’ve ever done was our State Fair in 2005. Mind you, 2005 was a different time economically and the business was firing on all cylinders. Real-estate values were climbing dramatically year over year in our local market. There was also a refinance boom happening, giving many homeowners access to capital to improve their homes. Retail financing was also very good at the time, as banks were liberal with their approvals.

That particular year we had a winning combination of economic strength, seasoned and veteran sales staff, excellent product mix and presentation, a good show manager and great weather during the entire fair, which made for record attendance. Our booth location was also a game changer. Before 2005, we had been in a slightly smaller booth located in a different section of the fairgrounds. We had speculated that the move to the new location would be a good one based on traffic flows and proximity to one of the main fair entrances. Needless to say, the new location paid dividends, giving us a nice bump in traffic to our booth that ultimately converted into more sales.

Many of the variables referenced above were in our control, and many were not. Things like weather, overall fair attendance, and economic climate are all things you cannot control that have a significant impact on performance and by nature can either make a good show a great one or vice versa. At this particular fair, those variables were in our favor.

Always do your homework and make sure to put your best foot forward with regard to the things you can control. The rest is a little bit of luck.

Greg Mruk, store manager
Pool & Patio Center
Coventry, Rhode Island

The best selection, layout, product and people are the keys to having profitable events. We attend home shows and conduct on-site and off-site events. A home show can be fun because a hot tub dealer is put in a mix of different business categories, so we’re not just selling against the other spa dealers that may be attending the show, we’re also selling against the companies that sell bedding, vinyl siding, outdoor kitchens, etc. You have to convince the customer WHY they need to buy a hot tub or swim spa NOW versus other luxuries at the show.

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Having a good relationship with a reliable and honest traveling sales team can increase your customer reach during a busy show and more importantly help close deals. In most cases, you’re only there a few days, and if you miss a prospect due to lack of personnel, they could be off to the next dealer. The best time to have events on-site is during your peak customer volume weeks throughout the year. For instance, if we have a hot tub sale while pools are being closed we can now introduce customers to a year-round product.

Look at what else is happening on the weekend of an event. Being located in New England, we have a lot of Patriots fans. If a show is on a big playoff game weekend, the home show is last on the to-do list. That hurt show attendance substantially for one we do not attend anymore.

Jeff Kaufer, spa manager
Concord Pools & Spas
Latham And Saratoga, New York

We have found off-site events to be a better venue than simple store sales. We do some large and small events. For our worst experience, we thought we had great visibility to a local highway, but the actual location was hard to get to even if you saw the tent. Couple that with the fact that some traffic actually went past a competitor who responded with signs directing people to their store, and we had a miserable outcome even after putting up signs of our own.

Advertising and location is key. Finding other dealers who have had success and picking their brain is useful; learn how they accomplished it and find out what to avoid. Likewise, make the event look professional and festive. For gosh sakes, it’s a sale!

Mark Nelson, owner
Master Spas Of West Michigan
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Everyone enjoys the first home show of the year. Local competitors gather to say hello to all the other dealers in town. A way to start off a new season of selling! Those sales are somewhat safe — sales are spread around to all, and you can check out the new models manufacturers unveiled. We all get an idea of what everyone’s doing and offering.

There are dealers who do better at these events than others, maybe because they have better sales staff or show sales help. They understand the shows are selling markets and usually good margins. They encounter a different kind of buyer — a positive deal shopper — at shows. Make sure your booth is buyer friendly, have a staff who understands sales and the objectives for selling at shows.

Your competitors will shop you at the shows, although I am not sure why. After almost 30 years in the hot tub business, if they don’t know my business plan yet, they never will. I usually hand out new literature to the other dealers at the start of the show so they have what they want. The literature represents our products in a true, updated and factual way. Better they have that to study than have them in our booth.
The big-time hot tub, swim spa and sauna sales are a little different. This is not for the everyone! We do six to eight of these events a year, usually held at event centers, major ballparks or expo centers. We have our own ad agency in house and ad budgets of $50,000 to $100,000 for one event. You need to know how to buy advertising or you will lose the cost per customer value per sale. This makes or breaks an event.

To pull this off, you also need help from the manufacturing company. A mix of factory-trained salespeople with your own sales professionals makes for great teaching and learning with the result of excellent selling. Other factory support is truck loads of product being delivered on time, as ordered, and POP material.

These events have earned Master Spas Of West Michigan hundreds of thousands in extra revenue. sr-logosm