J&W Cycles of Washington, Mo., enlists the help of the Clauses when the holiday season rolls around. Photo courtesy J&W Cycles
Though some stores equate holiday season decorations with Christmas trees, trimmings and turkey, quite a few retailers have found that the key to their sales success is getting potential customers into their stores earlier in the season — meaning adding pumpkin patches to the regular lineup of holiday displays to bring them in.
Mercedes Radney, Renegade Harley-Davidson’s marketing and event director, for example, is in the throes of one long, holiday season — the Alexandria, La., dealer started its festivities mid-October, with a Twilight Ride led by Bruce Mitchell of the History Channel’s “Swamp People” followed by an in-store pumpkin patch installation and contest. For a few weeks, every customer who makes a purchase receives a pumpkin, and those who enter the store can participate in a “guess the weight” contest regarding a behemoth gourd.
“The activities bring in hoards of customers and sets us up nicely for the holidays,” Radney says.
This month, the dealership will roll out a turkey bowling event, complete with frozen turkeys as stand-ins for the traditional bowling balls. “If they hit a strike, they win Harley-Davidson prizes,” Radney says. “It’s a lot of fun, and will raise a good deal of money for hungry Louisiana families.” Proceeds benefit area food banks.
PROCEEDING WITH CAUTION
Even with their optimism, dealers are exhibiting a bit of caution in their sales expectations, and rightly so. Financial firm Deloitte recently predicted that holiday sales will increase by anywhere from 2.5 percent to 3 percent, which amounts to $873 billion to $877 billion. This is a modest prediction, considering that sales last year rose by 5.9 percent. Deloitte reps credit this to the persistent housing and employment issues facing the U.S. today.
“Consumer spending was on the rise for several months despite dampened confidence in the economy among U.S. households,” said Deloitte chief economist Carl Steidtmann in a statement. “Those earlier gains have begun to flatten and may be tempered by persistent weakness in the housing and employment sectors and pressures from the European debt crisis. Despite some relief in energy prices, consumers may feel the strain from food, apparel and other categories where prices are markedly higher compared to the previous holiday season. Additionally, retailers will face tougher comparisons this year after last year’s substantial increase in holiday sales.”
J&W Cycles in Washington, Mo., is just one of many dealers who can support Deloitte’s findings. Sales manager Doug Jones says that September was a “soft” month, despite better sales three months before. “When I say better, I mean back up to 50 to 60 percent of what our dealership used to sell five years ago.”
Jones says that the store will push UTVs — Polaris, especially — as he believes sales will be especially strong this year. “I do feel it will be better, probably in the 15- to 20-percent range,” he says. Other big-sellers? “With the lead ban lift, we will mostly be focusing on youth ATVs and motorcycles.” During the holidays, the store usually has a gear deal giveaway, where they throw in a helmet, goggles or apparel with the purchase of a youth unit.
Outdoor MotorSports owner Chris Lien faces the holiday season in an unusual spot. Lien purchased the Spearfish, S.D., dealership from former owner Bill Hearne in mid-summer, so it’s his inaugural holiday season with the powersports industry (Lien, however, is a veteran business owner outside of the industry.) He’s been learning the ropes from Hearne, and will continue with the store’s tried-and-true holiday schedule from years past, which includes in-store hunting displays, Black Friday events and the popular 12 Days of Christmas event.
“Basically, it’s just about getting everyone geared up from the very first part of December, highlighting parts and accessories and giving service discounts before the year ends,” Lien says. “Obviously we have specials and incentives on major units. And [specials on] a lot of the winter gear, as well.”
And, you can bet that at least some of these units will be housed in festive hunting displays. “For us, since we’re in a rural environment, our displays aren’t so much turkeys and Santa Claus,” Lien says. “It’s about farming, ranching and hunting. South Dakota is the pheasant capital of the world.” Lien says that there will be three rotating displays throughout the season.
The store’s Black Friday sales event falls as normal on the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving, but Lien is opening the store during normal business hours rather than at dawn, like many stores traditionally do. “Almost everyone who’s going to get up early is going to be at Walmart anyway,” he says.
THE GOOD NEWS
Though the sales increase this season is predicted to be on the small side, there is a silver lining. Deloitte anticipates a 14 percent increase in “non-store” sales — i.e., sales made on the internet, through catalogs and television.
“The brick-and-mortar store is still central to the shopper experience,” said Deloitte vice chairman Alison Paul in a statement. “Retailers that integrate the power of the sensory experience in-store with relevant, timely information via their websites and mobile applications are well-positioned to lead the way this holiday season.”
This story originally appeared in the Dealernews November 2011 issue.