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Ho, Ho, Ho, You Better Watch Out

I realize it’s not even Halloween, but thoughts need to turn to mistletoe and holly now, lest the opportunity to profit from the holiday selling season passes dealers by.

Why now? Because predictions for Christmas spending this year aren’t so great considering the looming recession. It means dealers desiring to cash in on Christmas sales will need a solid and creative marketing plan to get their share. Moreover, following the lead of the “big boys” can’t hurt, either, since their market timing and customer research far exceeds marine dealers’ capabilities.

If you haven’t noticed, some of the big-box furniture and appliance outlets have already kicked off their holiday push, announcing no-down-payment layaway promotions beginning next week. They’re strategy is transparent: to lock up the money before competitors do, given an expected tough road to get consumers spending. So let the battles begin.

Indeed, accounting giant Deloitte has already warned the public “not to expect as many gifts as usual over the holiday season this year.” The rising costs of health care, housing, child care, food and other essentials means many consumers simply won’t have the bucks to spend.

Such expectations aside, there’s also a possible plus for aggressive marine dealers. For one thing, much of the holiday spending traditionally comes from upper-income consumers. Households earning more than $50,000 annually spend nearly twice as much as those below that level, and that demographic is clearly the boating customer. So given the right offers, promotions and timing, there should be Christmas sales out there for aggressive dealers.

But here’s the rub: While it may not seem like it, now’s the time to get ready to move. There’s no doubt the big guys will be gearing up for the holidays with even bigger promotions, possibly even sooner than last year. The “sale” strategy can be expected to predominate, with discounts likely even bigger than last year and the timing moved up well into October. In fact, last year there was more than two months of holiday sales promotions.

Obviously, no dealer can have a Christmas profit if there aren’t customers coming into the showroom, visiting the accessories department’s Christmas Gift Ideas display, or coming to the specially designed Christmas Gift Page on the dealership website. Moreover, since “sale” is again projected to be the business driver this holiday, marine dealers should huddle up their staffs in meetings now.

Hash out the sale leaders and traffic builders to be used, establish the promotional calendar and set down the specific marketing vehicles. Email, social media, the website, media ads, direct mail, open houses — these all should be in the arsenal to reach customers with your Christmas sale message.

So while it might seem early to think about the holidays, it’s not too early to assemble a Christmas marketing and sales plan. It’s a great opportunity to get the team directly involved in the planning, deciding which products and services might sell best at what price point, and so on.

In the end, of course, enjoying some income-generating success is going to come down to communication with the dealership’s customer base. That assumes, you’ve fine-tuned your timing, deals and delivery.

On Thursday, I’ll look at some ideas in more detail to cash in this Christmas. Consider it making a list and checking it twice.

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