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Coleman events keep dealership top-of-mind

Virginia stores grow on- and off-site activities

Auctions, new rider seminars, fashion shows and more. You’d be hard pressed to drive by one of Coleman PowerSports’ two Virginia locations during riding season and not see at least one event drawing customers each month.

Though the stores have been hosting some of its signature events for 30 years or more, the number of events have increased over the past few years as the dealership adjusts to post-recession spending habits, using events to draw customers in, whether they’re ready to buy or not.

“The biggest change is definitely trying to just get the customers into Coleman Power­Sports more and to make sure that if they’re in the market to buy a motorcycle, they’re thinking about Coleman PowerSports,” general manager Kim Harrison said.

Coleman PowerSports, named the No. 2 dealership in North American in the 2013 Powersports Business Power 50, hosts a slew of events throughout the year to attract new customers to the store and bring back loyal buyers.

Creating a plan

To kick off its events each year, Coleman PowerSports creates a marketing plan late in the prior year. Recent marketing plans have centered mostly around on- and off-site events.

“We start with a percentage of sales, and then we also sort of back into that with what we want and how we lay out our events and also what we get for co-op,” Harrison explained. “I try to start with a true marketing plan and then blend that with the budget.”

The dealership starts with ballpark numbers before narrowing down advertising spend. Every event is marketed through Coleman PowerSports’ website event calendar, e-newsletters and through third-party riding clubs.

Coleman PowerSports opened its location in Falls Church, Va., in 1986. It features 42,000 square feet of space on two levels. The Woodbridge store, at 38,000 square feet, opened in 1996. The dealership is celebrating its 50th year in business in 2013.
Coleman PowerSports opened its location in Falls Church, Va., in 1986. It features 42,000 square feet of space on two levels. The Woodbridge store, at 38,000 square feet, opened in 1996. The dealership is celebrating its 50th year in business in 2013.

The dealerships also create two-sided, 4-by-6-inch color fliers for each event. Those are distributed in each customer’s shopping bags leading up to the event, and staff also brings them locally to places where they’ve created partnerships, such as restaurants, bars and bike shows. Also, posters baring the same design are hung on the doors and in the restrooms of the dealerships.

Radio is also a key advertising medium, taking up more than a third of the marketing budget. Harrison has found radio presents the best return on investment, as Washington, D.C.-area newspapers charge hefty fees for ads, and the area has too many cable and satellite TV options for TV advertising to be an economical option.

“I’ve got a very good relationship with a couple radio reps in town, and I feel like in the D.C. market, that’s one of my better reaches,” Harrison said.

To choose which events return and which should be replaced, Coleman looks at each activity’s success in the following year. That success is then measured in a variety of ways.


“We don’t only look at sales. We also look at feedback from our employees as well as the customers, and we try to get a feel as to if the customer enjoyed it and what they got out of it,” Harrison explained.

The dealership also looks at what its peers in the industry are doing in terms of events and sometimes borrows aspects from non-competing stores.


Coleman PowerSports’ events range from small, new rider introductions that sometimes attract only a handful of customers, to large, signature events, such as its annual auction, which can bring in 500-700 people.

The auction is the pinnacle event. Started as a legal avenue to rid the dealerships of service bikes that customers never picked up, the event has grown to include some of the dealership’s used models as well as customer consignment bikes. Sales range from $50 for older parts-only units to upwards of $20,000 for late-model dressers. Each year about 80 bikes are auctioned off at one of Coleman’s two locations, and the dealership reaches full capacity at the auction and in its parking lot.

“We’ve made it a real event, a destination for buyers, and the place to be and buy,” Harrison reported.

To draw in the customers and keep them staying for hours, the dealership offers free lunch and beverages. A pre-auction viewing is set for 10 a.m., three hours before the first unit crosses the block. Because so much traffic runs through the dealership, and so many people are there for hours, the day not only serves as a profitable way to move used inventory, but also turns the event into the dealership’s most profitable accessory sales day. A typical auction day sees about $70,000 in P&A sold.

The auction also serves as a gateway for Coleman to reach out to new customers, as many returning bidders bring friends year after year. The event marketing, which begins at least 45 days out, also attracts newbies.

“We get a lot of new customers that have not come to the dealership. I think just the word auction is exciting, and people come to see what it’s about, so we find we really expand our customer base that day,” Harrison said.

Other events the dealerships host include technical seminars, block parties, demo days and cookouts. Last year a fashion show turned into a bike show when Coleman focused more on flashy accessories than models in new gear.

“The fashion show was really about the bike itself and all the things we added to it,” Harrison said.

Also popular are the dealerships’ new rider nights and seminars, in which those new to the sport learn about local riding courses, the differences between bikes and available accessories. They also receive technical advice.

Coleman also participates in a number of off-site events, including the Washington, D.C. International Motorcycle Show, an area sportsmen’s show, concerts, track days and off-site Ducati launches. Those events are usually aimed at marketing to new customers and creating relationships with businesses throughout the area.

“We’re always open and looking to partner with non-competing businesses to see how we can reach out and find new customers,” Harrison said.


During events, Coleman is not only trying to create sales and develop value for customers, but it’s also trying to grow its email database, so the dealerships can reach out to those new prospects year-round. That database, which has been in the works since 2002, has reached about 35,000 email addresses.

“We’ve been really going after building that list. It’s a constant effort,” Harrison said.

Because people are often moving, changing email addresses, or unsubscribing to Coleman’s emails, Harrison says its important to continue adding names to that list, so its doesn’t become stale and dissipate. To collect email addresses, the dealerships host enter-to-win contests at off-site events.

Coleman PowerSports reaches out to its email list about once a week in season and about twice a month during the off-season. Most e-blasts are focused around the dealerships’ events or sales, but some are meant to trigger a response to see who is actively engaging with the emails. A recent such promotion included Coleman asking customers why they ride after it took stock of “Why We Ride” DVDs. One response was chosen at random to receive a free DVD, and Harrison was impressed at how many riders responded, including many who replied within seconds of the email being sent.

Through its e-newsletters and other mediums, Coleman PowerSports is able to attract new and loyal customers to its events. Though some draw upwards of 500, others, such as new rider nights, may only bring in a few, but Harrison says the quality of attendees sometimes outranks the quantity.

“The days we have four, we’re just as excited as the days we have 60 because the day we have four, we might have more qualified buyers,” she said.

Because of size and number of attendees, some events calls for larger budgets, but others can be as simple as throwing a few hot dogs on the grill. The goal, Harrison said, is to make Coleman PowerSports appear like it’s the ideal place to buy a bike.

“We make it look like something’s happening, and it’s a reason to stop by Coleman PowerSports today,” Harrison said.


0113Power50-Coleman logo

Locations: Falls Church and Woodbridge, Virginia
Employees: 82 full-time, 6 part-time
General Manager: Kim Harrison
Brands Carried: Can-Am, Ducati, Eton, Honda, Kawasaki, KYMCO, Polaris, Sea-Doo, Suzuki, Victory, Yamaha and Zero


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