Successful off-site events require plans, prep and courage
By Jim Raposa
Photography By Jim Kullmann
Thousands of years ago, a Roman statesman and philosopher named Seneca said, “Our plans miscarry because they have no aim.” The same can be said about planning a successful off-site sales event. Wishfully hoping for success is tantamount to planned disaster. Frankly, everyone has the same laserlike goal when deciding to do an off-site sales event: to sell spas. Taking stock of your on-site booth/tent needs — electricity, working spas on-site, number of salespeople taken from the showroom to work an event — can paralyze your ability to prioritize your off-site event to-do list. Do you map out a success system which tilts the odds in your favor? Or will you operate like a ship tossed at sea, hoping to miraculously enter a safe harbor? Sean Hunsinger, our resident sales expert, offers practical insight from his experience.
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Through his company, Spa Show Pro, Hunsinger travels the country as a staff sales trainer and facilitates sales events for retailers. The best place to start, he says, is your timeline. Give yourself enough lead time to develop your game plan. “There are three types of sales events: Super sales, tent/parking lot sales and home shows,” Hunsinger says. “Outside events are typically a much different beast than showroom sales. You’ve got to allocate enough lead time to plan for off-site events, there are many moving parts involved, but don’t neglect your daily business, either. Many people tend to leave themselves short in the showroom. You still have a business to run. Be realistic about your sales goals at off-site events. Ask if the event would even be worth your time, money and effort to do, or participate in. Make a list of what you need to accomplish.”
Hunsinger suggests where you set up for such an event should, first and foremost, be about the location of your event. Dennis DeMartini, general manager at Rich’s For the Home in Washington, has pinpointed some high traffic off-site areas in the path of prospects with money to spend. “This year, we’ll have four to eight off-site events,” DeMartini says. “One of those is the annual Washington State Fair Home Show in Puyallup, Washington. This is a major venue which has been very strong for us year after year.”
No matter the event, Hunsinger suggests not keeping your participation a secret. “Either people know you’re there, or you advertise to get them to come to you,” Hunsinger says. “If it’s a festival or home show, the promoters will usually do some print or television advertising in advance. That can make participation both appealing and lucrative if you participate.”
DeMartini adds advertising to ensure success. “Last year, we did a three-week tent sale in a mall parking lot,” he says. “It was a great location, right off the highway. We had a huge tent, balloons, signage, plus we invested about $1,500 in Google Ad Words (now part of Google My Business). We supplemented that with some cable TV marketing for about $3,000. With a relatively small marketing budget of $4,500, we exceeded our sales expectations for that event.”
Scott Clark operates The Spa and Sauna Company in Reno, Nevada. In addition to his three retail stores, his company holds two parking lot sales and participates in a dozen or so Costco Road Show events. “The advantage of the Costco show, even though the margin is lower because Costco sets the price, is that I don’t have five other spa stores set up near me to compete against, like I’d have at a home show or street fair,” Clark says. Prime location isn’t limited to street fairs and home shows, so be alert to such opportunities.
Hunsinger points out that all off-site events are not created equal. “Tent sales, parking lot events and home shows each have unique requirements; so pick the event that’s right for you,” Hunsinger says. “Develop a checklist for each individual type of event, make note of what needs to happen at these events for your business. If you skip this step, you could have glossed over the one thing that might have created massive success.”
After picking a prime location, staff it properly. DeMartini decided it was worth hiring an off-site events manager. That point person seeks prime locations for event sales, negotiates rent and keeps tabs on all the necessary elements. Rich’s For the Home also hires an outside sales organization to manage and staff the sale with salespeople who understand what it takes to close a sale at an off-site event.
Before committing to anything, however, Hunsinger suggests looking over the calendar. “It’s the best way to make sure your event doesn’t coincide with a major occasion, local celebration or holiday, which will likely take your target audience’s attention away from your event and business,” Hunsinger says.
There’s a different mindset at an outside sales event; it has a whole different vibe and sales choreography than traditional in-store retail. Hunsinger stresses that time is compressed at such sales. “Outside events need to be staffed suitably, by people who can guide the sale in minutes, rather than days,” he says. “People will go to a showroom three times before they purchase. At an event, you have about 30 minutes or less to get someone to reach into their pocket and spend upward of $10,000 to $20,000 or more.”
Teaming with a supplier or manufacturer makes a great deal of fiscal sense, says Hunsinger, especially if you can make use of any existing co-op offers to lower your event overhead. “There are many advantageous ways to co-op an event, plus it helps you gain credibility by having multiple skew items,” Hunsinger says. “Costs can be offset by selling additional outdoor living products like patio furniture, fireplaces, grills, spa accessories and other items. The potential downside is that you’re relying on outside sources to do what they say they’ll do in a timely fashion. If they aren’t as organized as you are, it can reflect poorly on you and your event. Still, it’s worth looking into.”
An age-old question with off-site events is how many spas to display and whether any should be operational. Should you give a customer the option to get in and give the unit an on-site test drive? Hunsinger says the answer varies by event type. “I never recommend bringing just one or two spas to an off-site event,” Hunsinger says. “It sends a signal to the customer that you’re not really in business. Often when retailers do that, they’re using the spa to generate a lead, then they have to reach out to that person after the event to try and get them into the showroom, rather than grabbing the golden goose and making the sale that stands in front of them. The rule is to sell one-and-a-half times as much as what you show. If you show four spas, you should sell six to eight spas at an event. There should always be at least one spa that is operational, too. If you’re doing a large event like a parking lot sale or home show, you should have more than one that is operational. If you have swim spas, I suggest having a swimmer demonstrate the spa at set times throughout the day, not continuously, so they don’t distract your prospects. Regardless of the type of spa, make sure you have enough available power so the tub is fully operational and heated before letting anyone get inside for a wet test.”
Overall with some basic planning, you can absolutely design an off-site event that will be exciting and serve as a conduit for increased sales and profits. If you haven’t spearheaded such an event in the past, talk with friends and peers who have. Proper implementation is key.
Speaking of sales and profits, Hunsinger sees a strong resurgence in the marketplace as the Great Recession gets smaller in the rear view mirror. “Geographic areas that have been flat are starting to bounce back,” he says. “That’s encouraging. The pendulum is swinging toward the upside for dealers once again.”