Vendors Turn to Contests to Create Excitement on the Sales Floor

May 23, 2012

Topic: Business

In an attempt to gain traction, drive sell-through and deepen bonds with key retailers, outdoor brands are increasingly turning to sales and merchandising contests long used by footwear vendors and dealers.

Unlike footwear retailers, many specialty retailers in the outdoor, cycling and snow sports industries remain leery of tying compensation or rewards directly to sales for fear such incentives will create a “hard sell” environment that will scare off customers. Outdoor retailers also often decline participating in brand-specific sales contests because they don’t want sales associates to favor temporarily a brand that may not best serve a specific customer’s needs. For marketing executives, however, contests can provide a useful way to gain mindshare with both retailers and the salespeople on the floor, particularly when it comes to introducing new products or entering new categories.

Consider Deuter USA, which launched a multi-tiered campaign to promote its new Aircontact series of heavyweight hauling packs. Deuter is a leading backpacking brand in many categories in its native Germany, but the company’s success in the United States has so far come largely from its innovative child carriers and smaller packs. To break into the 55+ liter category in the United States has required a little extra push to overcome dealers’ reservations, said Christian Mason, director of marketing and sales for Deuter.

“We’ve never done a sales contest, but I saw how footwear is the strongest selling category in the specialty outdoor channel,” said Mason, who has also worked for Petzl and Kelty. “I saw how aggressive and creative they are with sales contests, and so I decided to try it.”

To drive traffic to Aircontact dealers this spring, Deuter is offering a gift valued at $25 to consumers who buy one of the packs, as well as entry in a sweepstakes to win a trip to Norway. To incent retail associates to sell the packs, Deuter simultaneously launched a separate sweepstakes for dealers. For every Aircontact pack dealers sell between Feb. 1 and June. 30, they will earn one entry into a national contest for a spot in the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Wind River Mountaineering Course, which carries a retail price of $4,375. The top three Aircontact retailers in each of Deuter’s 10 U.S. territories are automatically entered in a random drawing for free Aircontact packs.

Mason said the territorial contest is gaining the most traction with reps and retailers because “the salespeople on the floor feel like they have a shot at winning.”

Sale pros say such incentives can provide a good way to win shelf space, but acknowledge their limitations in the outdoor industry.

“Very few people in the outdoor industry are motivated by money and very few are paid on a commission basis,” notes Dan Mann, whose Mann Consulting Group provides sales training to outdoor, snow sports and cycling brands and retailers. “So when you start applying a vendor incentive-based system, it sometimes lands badly. I’ve seen many instances of when the contest goes away and all the sales go away, only motivated by short-term incentive.”

Some outdoor brands have addressed this by launching contests that reward dealers based on their merchandising efforts rather than sales.

Since 2006, Woolrich has offered awards to dealers who design and exhibit the best window displays featuring its products. The contests have helped increase sales, boost sell-through, highlight pinnacle products, strengthen dealer relationships and elevate brand awareness with consumers. Woolrich generally ties eligibility to retailers who place minimum orders for certain products, depending on its goals for the season. Generally, 10 to 15 percent of the company’s pinnacle dealers participate.

“Our reps definitely target key accounts and work along with them to make sure they take advantage of the opportunity,” said Jerry Rinder, vice president of sales for Woolrich.

Last spring, Woolrich awarded 10 Nova Craft canoes wrapped in its classic Woolrich buffalo check pattern to regional winners of the contest. The winners were also entered in a drawing for a railroad trip for two through the Canadian Rockies, as part of an integrated promotion surrounding a national consumer sweepstakes. The national winner of its 2011 holiday window display contest was awarded a year of free use of a Subaru Outback wrapped in the buffalo check pattern. The seven contest finalists won a Thule rooftop carrier wrapped in the Woolrich design. 

Yakima announced in January it was sending representatives of ReRack to New Zealand after the Portland, Ore., dealer won its Whispbar Dealer Sales Contest. ReRack was one of 30 dealers who participated in the contest, which was designed to help launch the company’s newest roof-top carrier. During the contest, which ran from July through December 2011, competing retailers were judged on Whispbar merchandising, sales and brand presentation, advertising, consumer events, customer service, employee training and consumer feedback.

Tecnica launched its first ever holiday window display contest last fall to incent retailers to showcase its Moon Boots, which were introduced in 1970. Participants had to exhibit the display for two weeks between Oct. 24, 2011, and Jan. 31, 2012, and submit a photo certified by their Tecnica rep to a panel of the company’s sales and marketing executives. Three of 10 retailers who participated in the event won a five-day trip in March to Tecnica’s Italian headquarters, where they met the original designer of the iconic boot.

This winter’s unusually dry and warm weather, which greatly reduced boot sales, makes it difficult to assess how the contest affected sales. It clearly deepened bonds, however, with key footwear accounts like Jackson Bootlegger in Jackson Hole, Wyo., a footwear store that participates in more than a dozen sales contests every year and where sales associates work on commission.

“The experience creates goodwill between me and Tecnica, and me and my rep,” said Brianna Farmer, the general manager and buyer for Jackson Bootlegger, which was among the three winners of the Moon Boot window display contest. “Going to their headquarters to see how the boots are made and their design concept really helped to give me more awareness on how to sell the brand. After all, it’s Italy. It’s not like it’s ever a hardship to go to Italy.”