As retailing clinic time and budgets are stretched even thinner, an increasing number of rep agencies are turning to dealer camps as a means to ensure quality time with front line retail staff. Such was the motivation for the inaugural Mad River Glen Dealer Camp put on by Three Mountain Associates (TMA), a northeastern rep agency representing Big Agnes, G3, Jetboil, Leki, McNett and Osprey.
The event ran from May 11-13 and was held at the base and on the slopes of the Mad River Glen ski resort in Fayston, Vt.
The idea to launch the event grew from a seed planted during a discussion George Lesure and agency partner Tom McCarthy had with a fellow Osprey rep, Steve Ray, who has conducted very successful dealer camps in the Southwest. That seed began to sprout into a plan when, Lesure told SNEWS®, “Tom and I were bouncing around ideas on the best use of time and the expense of travel and the increased difficulty of getting time on a store floor with a dedicated group of folks across the brand spectrum.”
Reps these days can eat up all the available clinic time talking about just one brand, but most reps, like TMA, represent multiple brands across a wide range of activities. So McCarthy and Lesure decided to put a dealer camp together.
While ultimately, Lesure told us, TMA hopes to be able to attract 30 to 50 folks to future dealer camps, they were very happy with a first year turnout of 19 from retailers such as REI, EMS, Northwoods Outfitters, Maine Sports, Mountain Goat, Ramsey Outdoors and Action Bike and Outdoors.
“We had a great range of experience at the dealer camp, from folks who had only been working at a store a few months to others who could have trained us,” said Lesure. “While being able to focus for several days with product knowledge clinics is certainly a strong selling feature when talking about dealer camps, what is truly most valuable in my eyes are the opportunities for retailers to engage each other on how to best sell a product or category to a customer, sharing what does and does not work from experience.”
For Tim Roberts, a self-described gear fiend with 16 years in the outdoor industry under his belt and currently a salesperson at Ramsey Outdoors, the dealer camp was invaluable.
“Store clinics are nice but they are very finite in the information you can get. If you don’t have all of the products at your fingertips it is hard to get an idea of their scope and range,” said Roberts. “Also, while store clinics are still valuable, it is always done with a group of salespeople who have half the mind on the product being talked about and the other half listening for pages or looking for customers that need help.”
“What we had the ability to do up at the dealer camp is look at all of the tents set up and sleep in many of them, use the sleeping pads and bags and cook with the stoves and walk with the poles,” said Roberts. “Now, I certainly have an extra tool I can use when selling on the floor, to be able to talk about products I have actually seen and used. And, I can now offer personal insight on those products and maybe even valuable usage tips that I would never have known without being able to see and use the product myself.”
Lesure added that the idea really is to have the stores send their key staff to the dealer camps, so they can then go back and more effectively clinic the entire store staff, and thereby helping to close the training loop a bit more.
TMA’s first, and according to Lesure certainly not last, dealer camp is not a unique concept, but it is one that is growing in popularity among rep agencies as reps seek to balance time, expenses, resources and, frankly, ensure value to both the retailers and the vendors.
“We encourage our reps who want to conduct dealer clinics as it is of significant value to the retailer, to them and to us I firmly believe,” said John Pieper, sales director for Osprey Packs. “Agencies that think outside of the box and create dealer clinics and programs like this are the agencies I want to represent Osprey because they are doing whatever it takes to convey our information to the sales staff.”
Rion Smith, a principle at Outdoor Sports Marketing, a sales agency in the Southeast, and another fellow Osprey rep, has been conducting dealer camps since 1998. OSM now conducts two dealer programs: One is held every other year and brings together manufacturers, store owners, store buyers, R&D folks, and key store staff that Smith refers to an invitational; the other is called SOS (for Specialty Outdoor School) and is conducted in collaboration with two other agencies, the Uber Group and Nomad Inc.
With the invitational Smith told SNEWS, “Nothing is quite so fun and inspirational as a retail staff person getting to, say, paddle alongside Joe Matuska who is making the very paddles that staff person is selling on the floor.
As for SOS, the rep agency collaborative has managed to attract between 40 and 80 retailers each year for the past three years. “Since each of our agencies represent competing product, these camps are not so much about the products, although that is certainly a part, but they are more about imparting higher level sales skills so the sales staff learn how to best serve their customers while, certainly, selling the products each of us represent.”
TMA’s Lesure told us for his agency and the retailers and vendors involved, the event was very successful. “We had a Jetboil cook-off one morning and I can tell you, there were some audacious cooks out there. We had a Big Agnes tent speed set-up contest, as well as other fun events. You just can’t generate that kind of passion and energy inside a store. And it’s that kind of passion that feed sales and helps our retailers best serve their customers.”
SNEWS® View: In an age where reps are being asked to do so much more with less, dealer camps are likely to continue gaining in popularity. Consider that even if a rep manages to drive into the far reaches of his or her territory, they are still likely to be able only to clinic one or two brands at each store. Even then, when they get into a store, more often than not, the pre-clinic prep starts with a meeting with the store owner, manager or buyer who tells the rep, “This is what I want you to cover today and here are the four staff you are going to get.” That leaves the rep reworking a presentation to ensure he meets the talking points requested, while glossing over other information that might be important but for which he lacks the time. And all this is being taught to staff who have one eye on the rep, and another more likely than not on other parts of the store in search of customers who need help. And since the rep was only able to clinic or or two brands, that means for the other brands, he'll have to make a second or third trip to the store to cover those. That’s just not a environment for quality instruction given or received. In short, training corners are going to be cut at every turn. With a dealer camp, while it does take some investment from a retailer to pay for its key staff to attend, the rewards are monumental. For that investment of time and money, a store reaps the reward of having very pumped-up staff members return to the store with plenty of schwag, lots of inspiring stories to tell their fellow team-members who will likely want to go next year, and plenty of product knowledge that can and should be tapped into by the store to provide product clinics to the entire staff. The staff members fortunate enough to attend dealer camps become training and product sales advocates. Good for the brand, good for the retailer, good for the retail staff.