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Dealers can benefit from a learning curve

Last week I reported on the results of a survey being conducted by the education task force of the Recreational Boating Leadership Council.

Of the 166 dealers responding, 75 percent said they believe offering education and/or hands-on training could help sell more boats. They’re right if the experience of some camera businesses are an indicator.

Recently, business writer Andrew Wyrich reported in The Record, the flagship daily of the North Jersey Media Group, that area photo store owners have had to reinvent their business models and actually embrace the technology that was threatening to end their businesses.

The problem: How to get people coming back into the camera stores since digital cameras and cell phones have changed the way people shoot and store their pictures. No longer do most people want the camera store to print hard copies of their photos and those that do are using online sources instead of the brick-and-mortar shops.

The solution: Wyrich interviewed Bob Gramegna, vice president of Bergen County Camera. "People might be taking more pictures than they ever have, but they aren't printing them," Gramegna said. His answer has been to emphasize education classes on different aspects of camera technology or photo technique.

Gramegna’s store hosts at least two or three classes every week. They cover subjects ranging from photography basics to equipment. The largest, drawing 30 to 50 attendees, is an every Saturday morning open discussion. Visitors can ask questions of the store's employees while having coffee and donuts. "The small classes we charge for, but Saturday is our most popular event,” Gramegna said. “It's fun, it's free and it's resulted in a lot of sales for us."

Wyrich found that other area photo stores have also modified their business model to include education classes and training. For example, Unique Photo in Fairfield, N.J., hosts classes every day. Moreover, they reportedly charge $45 for a beginning level class and as high as "several hundred" for a class taught by a professional photographer.

Gramegna admits the classes alone haven’t made up the revenue lost from the lack of printing business. But he points out that education, coupled with an emphasis on personalized customer service, has helped his business “weather the storm.”

For our Recreational Boating Leadership Council, the goal of the education task force is to develop education initiatives that can attract more new boaters. While they work toward that end, dealers don’t have to wait. There are many opportunities right now to use classes and seminars as tools to drive store traffic and possibly attract new prospects. Like Bergen County Camera, Saturday morning boating basic introduction classes could draw boating prospects for the first time.

Similarly, classes ranging from the effective use of electronics to basic maintenance techniques could be popular with existing customers. Seminars on fishing basics, cruising and cruise preparation, on-board cooking, entertaining children, water sports and equipment, safe boating practices, hand-on training and more are all possibilities.

Finally, simply asking people what they’d like to learn is a natural.

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