Terry is a Chevy dealer selling 200 plus new vehicles a month with better than average grosses in his region. We met about 14 years ago at a “20 Group” meeting I spoke to regarding advertising strategies. A lot has changed in those 14 years and the good fortune of my friend Terry has only improved. He has since bought out his partner and paid off most of the store’s debt. He’s also become a dad to the power of two! (Hey…you owe me two cigars!)
During a “catch-up” phone conversation last week, Terry reminded me of an idea I suggested at our first meeting, one that his dealership has adapted with great success. The idea was to recruit several retailing successes outside of the auto industry to share marketing strategy ideas. I was so intrigue by the success Terry’s dealership was having with this concept, that I spent some time digging through my archives to find the material I shared in 1997. I’ve reconstructed the notes from that meeting, updating some of the ideas for the massive digital transformation the industry has gone through since that time.
In my original meeting with Terry’s group, I suggested to the dealers’ that they analyze the greatest retail successes (outside of the automobile business) in their respective marketing areas and invite a handful of the “best of the best” to a retail marketing summit. At that summit, propose to form an entity similar to that of an automotive “20 group,” sharing ideas on marketing strategies, media effectiveness, special and local events coordination, etc. The only information that would not be shared would be financial statements and actual media costs to avoid any conflict in the marketplace.
Terry took on the challenge, eventually partnering with a real estate company, a furniture store, a restaurant chain and a local lumber yard/home improvement center. Although the group composition has changed several times since formation, the basic structure remains intact. Even though no sensitive financial information is shared, the group’s membership documents state that all information shared is confidential. The group assesses a small annual membership fee (last year it was $200 per member) to pay a reasonable stipend to a coordinator (chosen each year from the marketing/ad teams of the group) who puts together an agenda for upcoming meetings, as well as out-of-pocket expenses for meeting materials.
The members take turns hosting the get-togethers at their respective places of business, during normal business hours. The reason for this is as part of the meeting agenda members share their perceptions of the retail experience/atmosphere/merchandising at the hosting member. The meetings feature sales presentation demonstrations, analysis of the local market including media changes and spending trends, discussion of planned calendar events and post analysis of the prior year activities. Terry says his group’s meetings are limited to 90 minutes although members might spend more time with each other on the phone or in person in between formal group meetings.
Will this work in your market? Share the concept at your next manager’s meeting. If your team thinks it has merit, take the following steps:
- Decide whom to invite to the initial summit for proposal of the idea. Ask your team members, your family and your media reps who might be a good candidate. Consider their brands, reputation and marketing presence carefully.
- Write a letter to each of these companies (e-mail me for a complimentary suggested script firstname.lastname@example.org ) explaining the concept, and then follow with a phone call. Include a date for the initial presentation.
- Limit the initial invitations to a maximum of five. You’ll get a lot more accomplished in a smaller “working-group” with an intimate and confidential exchange of ideas. For actual meetings, your group of five may grow to 15 if each member brings two guests.
- Keep it simple. Don’t use “PowerPoint” or sophisticated presentations. (Although you may want to share successful ad presentations on a computer screen, demonstrating web navigation, audio and video ads, etc.)
- Don’t distribute handouts. Let each member take home what they may from your meetings, but don’t let these meetings become ad-planners.
- Be clear about what advertising/marketing tag lines, slogans, expressions, etc. are proprietary. Make sure all members agree never to use another member’s intellectual property without specific and written consent.
- Never share e-mail lists – never. Don’t ask a fellow member for use of their list. Don’t let anyone use your list. There is nothing wrong with someone else emailing a message about your business or cooping you in their marketing efforts, but customers expect total privacy.
- Ad sharing opportunities are limitless, but remember, this is not the primary purpose of this group. You may want to discuss special events or campaigns on your ad calendar, allowing those members who want to participate to coordinate activities, but I strongly suggest limiting the cooperative effort to creative and timing strategy. Stay away from cooperative “rate-share” campaigns. It can be a real can of worms.
My friend Terry is the quintessential salesperson. The idea I shared with his “20 group” some 14 years ago sparked his imagination on a number of levels. He has become the local champion of “buy-local” in his marketplace. The marketing group he helped form offers special incentives to all employees of each group member.
Twice a year Terry and his “retail marketing mates” team up for charity events, including a golf outing that has raised over $50,000 for a local teen shelter.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you step out of your own box.