An annual open house is a tradition that most dealers take pretty seriously. It’s their chance to bring in new and old customers to see what products and services the dealership has to offer. When done right, a dealer open house results in a strong sales effort and countless customers who feel appreciated and taken care of.
When hosting an open house, there are typically three “guest lists” for dealers to choose from: residential customers, commercial customers, or residential and commercial.
“Usually our open houses are strictly for the commercial cutters, but this year is our anniversary year so we are opening it up to area homeowners and businesses too,” says Linda Remick, marketing and communications manager for 20 years at A to Z Equipment Rentals & Sales with several Phoenix-area locations. “We want them all to see what we offer the community.”
“I invite any commercial accounts, municipalities, government organizations, schools and apartment complexes,” says Brian Steensma of Steensma Lawn & Power Equipment in Kalamazoo and Plainwell, MI.
The Steensma Lawn & Power commercial open house isn’t advertised to the public, but passersby who wish to stop in are welcomed warmly. If they’d rather wait, they can attend their own open house in April.
“We do a residential open house the last weekend in April that we do advertise,” explains Steensma. “It is not as elaborate, but we do offer refreshments and a hot lunch. Customers can also take advantage of free tune-up kits with an equipment purchase.”
Existing and potential customers are not the only special attendees of an open house. Territory managers and consultants are also often a fixture. Remick reports that A to Z, like most dealers, will have distributors come to their open house to offer training sessions on equipment operation.
An open house is a great way to get potential customers and existing customers into the store. “We advertise heavily with in-store signage, statement stuffers and large tab-size mailers asking about 12,000 landscapers to join us for our open house,” says Remick. “We offer four or five discounted items and host games for winning coupons or discounts, T-shirts, hats and hand tools.”
Trying to keep the event profitable, Steensma won’t give up too much to get a sale at his open house. “We don’t wholesale-slash prices since it is equipment they need anyway,” he explains. “We will offer $200-$300 off a piece of equipment to give them enough incentive to buy, but we still make money on it.”
Steensma also offers a 10% discount on popular parts. His invitation to the event makes parts ordering quick and easy. “With our open house invitations, we send an insert with a parts list of all the popular blades, bearings, filters, etc.” explains Steensma. “Contractors can fill out the order form ahead of time and drop it off when they get to the open house.” As the contractors take in the open house offerings, the parts team at Steensma pulls together their parts orders into a neat package.
When timed right, an open house can be a great way to get customers excited about the upcoming cutting season. “We like to have them late enough where the commercial guys feel comfortable with the contracts they have coming in, but early enough where they can buy and not feel rushed,” says Steensma.
Most dealers agree that the best time to host an open house is in the early springtime. “It’s gotten harder to get people to come in for an open house,” says Remick. “We used to host two a year but have cut back to one in the spring since attendance has been down and we aren’t getting the response we used to.”
Fall is a good time for residential open houses and getting all customers ready for the winter months and snowthrower maintenance or repairs.
Depending on the weather, an open house can be hosted indoors, or for more space and room to play with, out on the lot. Supplier booths and tables for eating can be set up throughout the lot. Multi-location dealers may choose to have an open house at one or several locations depending on size and traffic.
“We host an open house at each location,” shares Steensma. “Our Plainwell location is not as big so we host a one-day show there, and then a two-day show in Kalamazoo. The two-day event gives us a little wiggle room in case there is snow one day and our commercial customers are busy plowing.”
This year is a special anniversary year for A to Z so they will host an open house at each of their three stores.
Hosting an open house isn’t just about selling equipment, but also about showing customer appreciation. “We like to go above and beyond and serve our customers a steak dinner,” says Steensma. “We try to use it as a customer appreciation day rather than just an opportunity to push iron—so the guys feel like we treat them well.”
The what, when, where and why of an open house are all very important. But it is the who that matters most. In hosting your open house, the most important thing to focus on is the customers. The open house is a tradition made fruitful by their participation.