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Here comes Santa Claus, Part 1

I entered Lowe’s Wednesday to pick up a few items and right in my face were rows of lighted Christmas trees, inflatable Santas, big candy canes, piles of green wreaths — you name it.

“What’s this,” I said to my wife. “It’s only October, right? I mean we haven’t even hit Halloween yet, right?”

“You’re living a sheltered life, Norm,” she answered. “All the big stores already have their Christmas stuff out.”

“After all, Christmas is only three months away,” she added in an obviously mocking tone.

Too early or not, I’m finding experts generally agree that we’re seeing leading retailers already in a great race to get the shoppers’ Christmas dollars before a competitor does. Toys “R” Us, for example, is hiring 45,000 temps in stores and distribution centers in anticipation of healthy Christmas business. So, it seems to me, what’s good for the big guys can be good for marine dealers.

Oh, I’m not suggesting you start decorating the store for Christmas today unless you cover your whole marina with a million lights like Joe Lewis at the Mount Dora Boating Center in Florida. No, what I am advocating is that right now is the time to talk about it — to craft your specific Christmas sales plan, because your customers will be spending money with or without you, so why not go after a share?

Bring in the reindeer

To get started, now’s the time to bring in the reindeer (your dealership team). Clearly, waiting until, say, November will leave insufficient time to craft and execute a genuine plan. Any sales promotion done at the last minute will likely fail.

So here’s the recommendation. Set a definite time now. Announce the date and time for your all-team Christmas brainstorming session. Have the pizza delivered. Give the team Christmas hats or Santa beards to wear to the meeting (get ’em at the local party store — the stuff’s already out there, too). Maybe have a drawing for a couple of $20 bills stuck on a Christmas ribbon, of course. Make the session fun, albeit with a serious objective.

The meeting should begin with a review of last year’s Christmas promotion results, if you had one. What sold? What didn’t? How was the timing? What media (email, direct mail, ads, etc) were used to push Christmas sales and with what results? Was it an in-store promotion or just via email. Did you use coupons? Was there just one special item or many or a percentage off, say, accessories across the board? Did the promotion have set dates — one week, a month, etc.? What worked? What didn’t?

With review time over, the floor’s open to let the fun begin: What can we do this year to generate Christmas sales? It’s critical to make sure every team member knows up front that in a true brainstorming session, no idea is judged, rated or rejected. All ideas, without regard to expense or practicality, are immediately posted on large Post-it Notes. Every team member, every department is encouraged to be creative and say whatever comes to mind. There’s no limits — that’s what brainstorming is and why it’s fun to do as a group.

When the ideas stop flowing and Post-its cover the wall, begin a process of combining and/or eliminating. As the team views the ideas on the Post-its, discussion begins on which might be great but not doable (those Post-its are removed) and which, if any, can be combined because they’re similar or complimentary.

From such an exercise, a rough pattern and plan should start coming into focus. From there, it’s fine-tuning, setting the calendar and deciding the implementation plan. To help with this phase, please come back for Part 2 of “Here comes Santa Claus” in next Tuesday’s Dealer Outlook for a list of applicable Christmas marketing ideas and tips.



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