New Year, New Rules of Marketing

Good news. Although there’s not much evidence in our economic landscape that suggests 2011 will be a year of smooth sailing, if you’re a dealer, you do have more opportunity before you now than in recent years.  I know, it’s January, it’s cold, floor traffic is down and cash flow is tighter than Dick’s hatband, but stay with me. The disappearance of hundreds of dealers in recent months and thousands in recent years does provide opportunity for the smart, savvy, marketing-focused dealer.

Thousands of orphaned customers across the country are left without a local dealer to provide service, form relationships and fulfill their needs for all things powersports. There’s nothing like a proven list of passionate enthusiasts without a home just waiting to be marketed to as a viable sales opportunity.

Additionally, after years of surplus in both product and competition, supply and demand has to start tilting into your favor in the near future. There are lots of customers to be had, less surplus inventory and far fewer competitors going after them — that’s a real positive for you. And it’s not just powersports retailers going away. Ann Taylor, Cache, Macy’s, Pep Boys, Wilson Leathers, Foot Locker, Zales Jewelers and even the Home Depot are just a few of the retailers who have downsized or gone away completely in the new economy. Oh, and how could I forget the pain and suffering of trying to find quality powersports enthusiasts to staff your store? There are now more qualified people to recruit, hire and train to do business your way. Better players equal a better score.

Speaking of this massive thinning of the herd, what separates the dealers left standing, some even thriving in this market, from those who’ve fallen by the wayside? That’s a question I hear a lot, and one I have given significant thought. The answer was illustrated recently while I was analyzing a dealer client’s 2011 business plan in a shop that is tracking for a record 2010.

The answer? Marketing. Sure, the most successful and profitable dealers I know are students of operational best practices, exercise responsible management of cash flow, are self-disciplined and not afraid of hard work but they’re also exceptional marketers. They don’t delegate their marketing to unqualified hired help and understand that there is no other single responsibility in the dealership that is as important as generating sales. These dealers understand that the pinnacle of all business skills is the ability to make it rain customers.

In fact, while assessing this client’s 2011 plan, I noticed exactly what he was doing that separated him from the rest of pack.

Everything. Search engine marketing, search engine optimization, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, email marketing, mobile marketing, reputation management, automated inventory distribution, direct mail and telemarketing are some the specifics that come to mind.

None of which, by the way, cost a fortune in terms of dollars spent on media. However, a significant non-monetary investment is required, and it’s one that most dealers are unwilling to make. It’s the investment of time and education on the new rules of marketing. The knowledge to understand these new marketing strategies and how they can be implemented, quantified and tweaked constantly for continual improvement is limited to the upper 5 percent of dealers. This investment, while not visible on the balance sheet, can yield the highest of ROIs.

I do feel compassion for the 95 percent of dealers unwilling to delve into the latest marketing strategies, as they can be confusing and difficult to understand. I also feel much sympathy for the many dealers who haven’t been able to weather this difficult storm who were caught unprepared. In fact, not a day goes by that I don’t feel a bit of gratitude for my upbringing and opportunities, and paranoia for the tough economic opponent we are all facing. However, I also understand that slow rabbits must be eaten, or the entire food chain collapses. During this difficult period of “correction,” it’s important to be the hunter and not the hunted. So with that, I leave you with one of my favorite sayings that’s posted in my office as a “little reminder” to wake up running every day.

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up knowing it must run faster than the fastest lion, or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up knowing it must outwit and outrun (at least) the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you’d better start running!”

No better time to put on a push than now. Happy new year! 

A former dealer principal, Rod Stuckey is considered by many the pioneer of multi-channel direct marketing for the powersports industry. Rod is the founder of Dealership University and Powersports Marketing.com.  His monthly column reveals how to sell more units and make more money.

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