Hands-on learning can build customer relationships

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Boot Camp – it’s a place for new recruits. It’s a utility for Apple’s Mac OS. It’s was the name of a 2001 TV reality series and there was a 1980s band called Bootcamp. But today it has new meanings worth noting for marine dealers.

Boot camps, as both good marketing and customer relations tools, have become increasingly popular, and these days they range in subject matter from bikinis to barbeque. But perhaps the boot camps that would model most for boat dealers are the Harley-Davidson camps.
This summer, Harley-Davidson will rev up several boot camps “to give riders (and riders –to-be) a chance to immerse themselves in the culture of twin-cylinder two-wheelers.” reported Susan Carpenter at the Los Angeles Times.

“These camps are really about catering to our customers and providing experiences,” says Bill Davidson, vice president of the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. Camps this year include: Biker Boot Camp for Women with rider training; H-D Fantasy Camp takes in group rides and meet-and-greets with H-D execs; and Speed Camp includes a plant tour and attending the NHRA drag races. They’re all about hands-on learning experiences.

But, it’s not just bikers who’ll go for hands-on learning. NMMA, for example, introduced a “Discover Boating Dock” for hands-on learning at the Tampa Boat Show and, based on success there, significantly expanded the idea at the Miami show. “It confirmed for us that boaters and wanna-bes are drawn to hands-on learning opportunities,” said Cathy Rick-Joule, NMMA vice president. “All our sessions at both shows were filled.”

In Tampa, a total of 44 “Discover Boating” hands-on sessions were held with more than 265 participants. Subjects included: The Ski Boat Experience; Close Quarter Boat Handling; Intro to Sailing; Large Boat (40’) Maneuvering; and Joystick Docking. Meanwhile, at Miami, more than 400 participants hit the water for the 180 sessions scheduled. And, it was common the have 10 or more people on wait lists in case of a “no-show” for a session!

Taking a page from the boot camp playbook is worth serious consideration for this spring and summer. If hands-on learning is attractive these days, it would be an easy process to plan a few boot camps on subjects of interest to customers and prospects. It doesn’t have to be long or complicated, either. You decide what the experience is. So, a boot camp could be as simple as a two or three-hour session on a Saturday morning of hands-on docking or navigating or fishing or cruise planning or onboard cooking or line handling or entertaining tips or recommended destinations or . . . well, ask some customers what they’d most enjoy learning about and experiencing. The point is its interactive learning that builds customer knowledge leading to happier boating experiences for them and a closer relationship for you. That’s a win-win worth the effort.

Oh, yes, just in case you’re wondering, there are: "Bikini Bootcamps" at the Amansala resort on the Riviera Maya, Mexico; BBQ Boot Camps at Alisal Resort near Santa Barbara, Calf..; and even Texas Hold’em experiences at World Poker Tour Boot Camps at a casino near you.

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