Event planning 101: What's your desired result?

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The editors have been pestering me for some time to write a column on event planning. I guess they think I might know a bit about it after almost 25 years of involvement with Dealer Expo and the International Motorcycle Shows.

It’s always been a good idea to create special events and functions at your dealership. You can use them to reward your current customers (and get them back into your store), and to entice new customers to stop by and see what you’re all about. So this isn’t a new thought.

We all know it’s become quite fashionable to squirrel away your pennies, and be the most frugal person on the block. There a zillion experts out there in print, on TV, on the radio, online, and in line at your local grocery store, all prepared to tell you how we can lead a simpler life, spend less money, and do with less stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for making sure you can pay your bills, feed your family and make sure you have enough money when you’re old so you don’t have to live with your kids. But you can still do all of that and have fun along the way.

People are hard-wired to have fun, and motorcyclists in particular really like to indulge their inner child.

So why not host an event or party at your dealership where your current and potential customers can gather and forget the “nittering and nattering” from frugalists? Many people subscribe to the medicine of retail therapy when they’re feeling blue or depressed. More people are apt to open up their wallets and buy themselves a treat when they’re happy and enjoying themselves.

Don’t tell my boss, but when I really started to think about how I could translate my knowledge of event management and planning to a dealership event, I actually fell back on my own personal party-planning experience. As my husband would tell you, there is nothing I love to do more than plan a party. And I approach it with military precision. Microsoft Excel is my best friend.

Planning an event or a party at home or at your dealership comes down to some very simple things. If you do them, you’ll have a great event. If you don’t, you’ll be running around like a chicken with your head cut off and you won’t achieve your desired result.

Key words: desired result. What is yours?

Do you want to bring together a group of your like-minded current customers and have them mingle with a group of potential new customers?

We all know word-of-mouth marketing is the best way to convert the undecided. Invite a bunch of motorcyclists who already love your brand, and let their enthusiasm and passion overrun your prospective customers.

Do you want to create an exclusive event for your customers to thank them for their past business and make them feel special? And make it easy for them to buy themselves a treat?

Do you want to blow out a bunch of merchandise that’s been sitting on the shelves gathering dust? You could throw them on a few racks and put up a “75% Off!” sign. Chances are, you’ll slowly sell these items, but in the time it takes to sell them, those racks are taking up precious space you could be using to sell newer, higher-margin product.

Decide what you want to accomplish and then break it down. Then you also need to decide the following:

• What mood do you want to create? Festival, high-energy, conversational, indoors, outdoors, casual, intimate, exclusive, fundraiser, etc. Mood and environment will help you determine your guest list, your food and beverage, your entertainment and your decorations. Without it, you’re just sending out an invite to come down to your dealership on a specified date to hang out.

• How much can I afford to spend? You don’t have to decide how you’re going to spend your total budget right now. Just set a maximum.

• How much do I want to sell? Yes, it’s OK to throw a party and expect a return.

• Who do I want to invite? And how many total customers do I want at this event? This is a very important step and shouldn’t be approached lightly. You’re doing this for business reasons. And you have a desired outcome.

• Do I have a way to reach my guest list? Hopefully, you’ve been building a database of your customers, both snail mail and e-mail. If you’re trying to reach current and potential customers, you could create an Evite to current customers that encourages them to bring a friend or two. This costs you nothing but time. If you’re old-fashioned, and your mother taught you the only proper way to issue an invitation is to send one through the mail, you could stop by your local office supply store and purchase invitations you can customize and run off on your printer. It’s not very expensive, beyond the cost to address them all (by hand, says Mom, using your printer say I), and cost of postage.

• When do I want to host this event and where? If you host your event in January, and you’re in Chicago, it’s definitely an indoor event, so you need to take into account the floor space at your store and how many people you can comfortably accommodate. If you host your event in June in the same place, you might have a parking lot big enough to accommodate both parking and an outdoor event. At this point you should revisit your expectations for total number of guests, to make sure you’ve got the room. Nothing worse than a party where you can’t move.

So now you’ve got the when, the where, the who, the total budget, and the theme. Now it’s time to start planning the details.

That’s next month. About Tracy Harris: Harris is the vice president and general manager of the Advanstar Powersports Trade Group.

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews May 2010 issue.