Maybe It's Time to Close the Open House

Stop wasting your time and money on an open house and direct your energy toward creating valuable education programs for the customer.

It’s that time of year again, when everyone is getting ready for the season to bust open and the talk of dealer open houses starts. I hear manufacturers complain that they have to attend them, and dealers complain that they have to host them. It seems to me that the only people who like open houses are the people who enjoy the discounts and free food.

As you can probably tell, I am not a big fan of open houses. I used to be because they used to work, but things have changed a lot over the years. For the most part, the people who show up to an open house are people you would get a sale from either way, or people who are just looking for free stuff and cheap food.

Dealers should do away with the open house and focus their money and energy on training for commercial landscapers and municipalities, and partnering with a garden or landscape supply company that targets the same consumer customers you long to reach.

The purpose of an open house is to showcase what you do, for people who are not aware of what you have to offer and why they should pay more to do business with you. Concentrate your time, dollars and energy on attracting new customer by thinking outside of the box.

Educating the commercial user

Let’s think about commercial landscapers since my son is one. What do they need? They need training for themselves and their people. Consider hosting a day of training for owners and key employees that is handled by your manufacturers or distributors.   Understanding marketing, customer service, billing, hiring, dealing with upset customers, safety, proper maintenance of equipment and profitability are all things that help commercial landscapers to be profitable.

Why not host a program for their employees on the proper care and maintenance of the equipment you sell them? We know why you shouldn’t run a zero-turn at full power over a curb—but their employees might not. Having your service manager or shop foreman do a workshop on good equipment maintenance will pay dividends on emergency service and put more money in your customer’s pocket. I learned a long time ago when the customer makes more money they tend to not negotiate as hard when they buy.

Mutually beneficial partnerships

When it comes to the consumer side of the business, partner with someone who has the same type of customer as you but doesn’t compete against you. That’s why I like my dealers to work with garden and landscape supply companies. These are companies that want to make flowers grow, weeds die and grass green. The customers they have are the customers you either have or are looking to attract.

You can share the investment in educational events with your new partner and quickly double the number of customers who show up. Invite a few vendors to do educational workshops for these shared homeowner customers. Provide snacks and refreshments and invite the local press to cover the event.

I would encourage each of you as dealers to sit down with your vendors and talk about how you can partner up to move in a different direction. I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to work with some of the best manufacturers and distributors in the industry and know without a doubt, that any new idea you have to increase your business without giving up margins would be well-received.

The reality of today is that open houses just don’t give you the impact that you strive to achieve. Make this the year that you stop the insanity and look for a better way to showcase who you are and the value you bring to your existing and future customers.