May 23, 2012

Five Tips for Your Next Dealer Contest

Outdoor vendors and their reps began convening last week in national sales meetings to discuss two key aspects of launching their spring lines — sell-in and sell-through.

The sell-in discussion will focus on ways to persuade retailers and their buyers to place orders for in-line products. The sell-through discussion will focus on the best ways to help retailers sell through product in-season once it arrives. This requires getting the sales associates on the floor as excited about a product as the buyers who put it there. And this is where many brands falter.

“You visit these retailers and they have all these sales contest posters up in the break room,” said Christian Mason, sales and marketing director for Deuter. “There was buy-in at the buyer level and there was buy-in by the store, but then they push it down to the employee level and it just fizzles. A lot of these sales contests never go anywhere.”

To get a sense of how to keep the excitement alive, Outdoor Industry Association® (OIA) recently asked a handful of brand sales managers, reps and retailers what has worked best for them. We condensed some of their remarks into the following tips for designing sell-through programs: 

Put some skin in the game. Just because you are convinced your product is the lightest, fastest, strongest or has the fattest margins does not mean retailers or their sales staff will embrace it. If you are offering a new product, particularly your first in a category, be prepared to make it worthwhile. It’s very common for outdoor industry brands to offer dating, additional discounts and other incentives to get retailers to order a new product. But many good retailers also expect vendors to provide co-op advertising dollars, gifts with purchase or other incentives to lure customers to their stores. Often these have to be in place before a retailer will consider participating in a sales contest.

Focus on the relationship. Use contests and other incentives or reward programs to deepen bonds with retailers and their sales associates so that when a campaign ends, they don’t simply switch to the next brand and the next contest. Reps insist the best way to do this is to get product into the hands of sales associates so they can use it, test it and recommend it to their customers. Contests that provide an opportunity to win the advertised product or travel to the vendor’s headquarters or an adventure destination are going to make a more lasting impression than cash. Just remember that most retailers will not want to lose a top-producing sales associate during peak season or for more than a week at a time.

Make it about merchandising. Rather than tie a contest directly to sales, consider tying it to some other outcome that supports sales of your brand. Woolrich and Tecnica have both used window dressing contests in recent years, while Yakima awarded a dealer with a $5,000 trip to New Zealand for merchandising work for the launch of the Yakima Whispbar roof top rack system. (See related story)

Zone your contests. Single-door retailers may hesitate to participate in national contests because they perceive they can’t compete against multi-store chains. To ensure broad participation and buy-in at both the store and the floor level, consider offering awards to the top three winners in a territory. This also helps ensure that all your reps will get behind the contest. Conversely, if you are seeking to incentivize or reward only key accounts, you can restrict eligibility by making the contest an invitation-only affair.  

Integrate your consumer and trade marketing. Larger brands are integrating their consumer and dealer campaigns to leverage their marketing dollars. In 2010, for instance, Woolrich kicked off its Woolrich Adventures consumer sweepstakes campaign by holding a random drawing at its Outdoor Retailer Summer Market booth for an all-expenses-paid railroad trip for two through the Canadian Rockies. The company used the drawing and consumer sweepstakes to draw attention to a new line of active travel apparel that launched at retail in spring 2011.