It’s never too early to plan Christmas promotions

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I know it’s not even Halloween yet. But thoughts need to turn to mistletoe and holly now, lest the opportunity to profit from the big Christmas selling season passes us by.

Why now? Because predictions for Christmas spending this year aren’t so great. It means dealers desiring to cash in on Christmas sales need a good marketing plan to get a share.

Moreover, following the lead of the “big boys” can’t hurt, either, since their market timing and customer research exceeds marine dealers’ capabilities. One example: Kmart has already started its Christmas push with a no-down-payment layaway promotion.

Further, it’s airing its first holiday commercial, a tongue-in-cheek spot promoting the Christmas layaway and swearing it isn’t a Christmas commercial. Kmart might actually be trying to get to the money before competitors do since many forecasters are predicting a tough road to get consumers to increase spending this holiday. Let the battle begin.

More specifically, PricewaterhouseCoopers is projecting the average Christmas household spending could drop 7 percent from $735 to $684 this year. Stagnant wages and rising costs for health care, housing, child care, food and many other living essentials means many consumers simply won’t have the money to spend.

But there’s also a plus side for aggressive marine dealers in this. Forecasters see much of the holiday spending coming from upper-income consumers. In a survey of 2,200 shoppers, PricewaterhouseCoopers determined households earning less than $50,000 a year are projected to spend $377 on average for the holidays. That compares with households earning more than $50,000 annually that are predicted to spend $978. This latter demographic is clearly our boating consumer. So given the right program and timing, there should be Christmas sales out there for dealers.

But here’s the rub — get ready to move now. There’s little doubt the big guys will be gearing up for the holidays with bigger promotions, likely even sooner than last year. The “sale” strategy can be expected to predominate, the discounts will likely be bigger than last year and the timing moved up to well before Black Friday. In fact, last year there was nearly two months of holiday sales. And, in an unprecedented move, all the big-box and mall stores opened by Thanksgiving night instead of Friday morning. So much for family turkey together, and that will be the rule again this year.

Wal-Mart fired the first shot last year on Nov. 1 when it offered sale items like a $49 computer or a 42-inch TV for $229, both products normally used for Black Friday incentives. What’s Wal-Mart doing this year? I don’t know, but you can bet they have a great plan. After all, it has been reported Wal-Mart has an extensive media plan. For the first time ever, Wal-Mart invited gift guide editors to a special event in June that showcased its top holiday offerings. The lesson: Christmas planning starts early and for marine dealers “early” has probably passed. Still, it’s not too late to get moving.

Obviously, no dealer can have a Christmas profit if there aren’t any customers coming into the showroom, visiting the accessories department or the Christmas gift ideas display or coming to the Christmas gift section on the website. Moreover, since “sale” is projected to be the business driver this holiday, dealers should get their staff together now, identify the sale leaders and traffic builders to be used, set the timing and create the marketing plan (emails, social media, website, media ads, direct mail, open house — choose your weapons) to reach the customers with the Christmas sale message.

It’s like making a list and checking it twice.

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