Aug. 11, 2008 – How to target your best customer

Like any other recreation enthusiast, a PWC owner often finds him or herself ultimately asking, “What’s next?”
In the beginning, the urge to play and opportunities with the craft seem endless to most customers. With time, however, the thrill wears off, other priorities invade and the customer who was once described as a true PWC enthusiast becomes little more than an occasional rider. And in turn, only an occasional visitor to your dealership for parts, service or even to upgrade to a new craft.
It’s more of an issue than ever in today’s economy. With new unit sales flat, it’s more important to pay attention to that customer you already have.
One often-overlooked opportunity is in dealer-sponsored rides.
“After a great day of boating, the energy and passion for the activity is revived,” said WaterTop Unlimited’s Tim McKercher, who has both successfully run his own events as well as advised dealers on running their own. “Owners are ready to do it again the following weekend. That is when the opportunity to capitalize on the consumer emotion is the greatest.”

Open Invitation

Like the family that plays together, the customers who play together are more likely to stay with your dealership.
“There are advantages when you get a group of your customers to go ride together, to go play together,” said Greg Surdyke, owner of Lake of the Ozarks-based Surdyke Yamaha. “The camaraderie riders groups have generated over the years is impressive. There’s really nothing negative that can come of it…as long as you don’t do anything to make your customers mad.”
Start with your customer database. Direct mail is a great way to invite customers and their friends to your event. Don’t be afraid to ask the OEMs, vendors or local businesses for giveaways.
“Creating an event for your customers will encourage them to purchase maintenance products and have their boats serviced to ensure they are in top notch shape for the event,” McKercher said. “This will also put you in contact with customers that you may have not seen in several years, creating the perfect time for you to show them the latest and greatest in the new models.”
To capitalize, bring the latest and greatest models to the water for customers to demo, and ask the OEMs for co-op ad help, signage or even some help in staffing.
This year, Surdyke will once again hold what has become known as that “dam” run, a 100-plus mile jaunt along the Lake of the Ozarks from the dealership’s marina location to the Truman dam and back. Surdyke Yamaha has been putting on the ride for most of the past 10 years. This year, it will take on a poker run format — that “dam poker run” is a catchy title — and should continue to be a success for the dealership.

Practical Advice

With all the years of experience behind him (the family also has been doing similar Harley Davidson rides for more than two decades), Surdyke has a few more practical suggestions on how to make a group ride a success. Some things are obvious, like getting the local fire and rescue involved to ensure everyone’s safety out on the water. Others, however, are born of trial and error. One suggestion? Surdyke suggests turning to local restaurants when it comes to food.
“If you’re going to provide food for a crowd, it’s much better to have experts do it for you, as opposed to you and your staff trying to cook for a ton of people,” said Surdyke. On most of the dealership’s rides, the participants’ $100 entry fee provides for two meals, one hearty breakfast to fuel everyone up for the day’s activities, the other a welcome lunch. It relieves the dealership of the hassle and responsibility of food preparation, as well as guarantees a participant’s lasting memory of the event won’t be the cold hamburger they had to choke down for lunch.
Surdyke also suggests involving a motivated customer or two in the planning and organization of the ride. The assistance will free the owner and staff from much of the time spent organizing the ride (and neglecting the dealership). As to the motivation, Surdyke suggests a perk — a free service of some type is probably the most cost-effective. Other dealerships have had success with a parts or accessories allowance.
As to how to get the message out to your customers, direct mail is often most effective. Surdyke, however, also has had great success with radio partnerships. “I provide them with WaveRunners to go up the lake on,” he said, “and they provide me with a lot of the advertising that draws people to the event.”

All In The Family

Finally, don’t dismiss the benefits for the dealership’s own staff. Getting out for a fun day on the water and allowing shop and sales people to enjoy PWC is a great way to keep staff happy and motivated as well. Encourage them to bring their families. The close customer interaction also can increase business. Salespeople are seen in a more casual setting, allowing customers to get to know them better and future business is often drummed up for the service department.
“It’s very important,” said Surdyke. “We do a ride once or twice a year, but we should be doing one 5-10 times a year. The whole world is looking for ways to have fun, and recreate without spending a lot of money. This is an easy way to do that.
“It usually ends up being not a lot of money out of pocket…and that makes it a win-win situation.” psb

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