Planning, team efforts are key to successful dealership events

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Given its close proximity to The Motor Co.’s Milwaukee birthplace, House of Harley-Davidson is pretty familiar to hosting store events. The dealership plans them on a weekly basis, drawing in pilgrims who’ve come to the area to visit Where It All Began.

“This is Mecca for a Harley rider,” says Sarah Maio, the store’s marketing manager. “Milwaukee is where it all started, and for us, it’s really important to be the dealership that can serve every level of interest.”

What’s interesting to note is that HoH’s events also draw in riders of other OEM brands as well as local non-riders who just need somewhere to hang out on a sunny weekend — making the store an epicenter not just for Harley enthusiasts, but for the community as a whole.

The dealership’s weekly events schedule ranges from organized rides to all-out weekend soirees which, while both Maio and event coordinator Kristin Wacker plan and execute together, heavily rely on staff creative and tactical suggestions. It’s this last part about involving other staff members that makes these events successful, Maio says. Putting on a store event without the input of staff and employees is not only difficult, but can be detrimental, too.

“I can’t emphasize enough that it comes down to the team and communication about these events,” Maio says. “[The meetings we have are with] the people who oversee the staff that’s actually out on the floor. I need to know information from them, because they are absolutely the experts. What are they seeing every day? What are the customers saying out on the floor? How do we react to those things? If we don’t pay attention to what the customer wants, all of the event planning is for nothing.”

The meetings Maio speaks of are held monthly, on the first Friday of the month, with managers from every department. “The specific events that we host are really decisions made by committee,” she says. “We have a very strong team of managers here, and once a month we meet for event-promotion meetings, to discuss what’s coming up on the calendar, and what we can add or delete.”

Maio also will send out meeting agendas ahead of time for invitees to ponder ideas before the meetings. “It actually makes the job much easier if everyone puts thought into it beforehand,” Maio says. These meetings also are used to discuss records from previous years’ events, like how many units were sold and how parts and Motorclothes departments fared against their set goals. “We go over the history and the events in detail — what worked, what didn’t — focusing on the events about two to three months down the road.”

In addition to monthly meetings, Maio hosts an annual offsite brainstorming summit. The group sits around a large conference table culling ideas, which are then voted upon. “The top 10 or 12 ideas are flowed into the event calendar,” she says. “Some are more department-specific, some are store-encompassing and some are altruistic. At the end of the day, we have a huge range of options and opportunities to plug into the riding season.”

These well-executed events are what makes House of Harley-Davidson, a multiple Top 100-winning dealership, one of the most popular in the area. It isn’t the only Harley dealership in the area by any means — there are actually eight total within a 45-minute driving distance. And while these stores are all in competition for the same pool of customers, many of the stores work together as one unit for larger community events.

For example, for the Milwaukee Rally, House of Harley and three other large Harley dealerships worked together in planning dealership rides and events. A dealership committee of owners meets every four to eight weeks (and more frequently as the rally date draws closer) to collectively make decisions about the common events that the dealerships will share, as well as shared marketing and promotional materials.

“There are things like rides and poker runs,” Maio says. “Then it’s up to each dealership to determine what happens at their own stores. It’s a unique thing for us to have so many other Harley dealerships in such close proximity.”

More: Maio offers up a rough event-planning calendar to help you stay on schedule. Visit the Shop Talk forums by clicking on this link to read it.