Auto parts retail is growing rapidly on the internet, so much so that many traditional “brick and mortar” retailers are struggling to grow. However, this shift from traditional retail to online retail doesn’t mean that so-called “offline” marketing is a waste of time for etailers. In fact, online-only part and accessory retailers can benefit greatly from participating at car shows, swap meets, races, etc.
Face-to-Face Opportunities as a Parts Retailer
The automotive parts industry is full of people who love working on their own vehicles — these are the people you want to reach. Knowing their habits and behaviors can help you connect with these consumers to make a sale. While we have covered where to find them online, it’s important to know where to find them in ’the real world’ — so this is where events become important.
Attending and offering gear at car shows, swap meets, auto racing events, truck and off-road shows, boating and RV shows, etc. is a great way to:
- Sell actual products. Depending on what you offer, what licenses your business has, and how your website is setup, it may be possible for you to conduct online business with customers face-to-face (eg, you order parts from the website on their behalf). You can also sell out of inventory you bring to events.
- Introduce your brand and/or products. If you can’t sell parts at a show – or it’s not really practical to do so – a show can still be a great place to boost sales. You can exhibit parts both by themselves and installed on demo vehicles, answer questions, demonstrate use and/or installation, etc.
- The auto enthusiast community is pretty social. Many of your customers want to talk to you about your parts, show you installs, talk about their project cars, show cars, race cars, etc. Attending a show is a great way to connect with these people on a personal level, making them lifetime customers in the process.
Also, don’t overlook shows and events that aren’t specifically automotive. Computer/electronics shows, gun shows, outdoor shows, ATV/UTV events, etc. can all be great places to connect with potential customers (study your consumer demographic data to be sure).
Make Good Use of Your Event Attendance
Whenever you decide to attend an event, here are some best practices:
Reel in the foot traffic with incentives. Give booth visitors an opportunity to sign-up for your newsletter with some sort of enticement — giving away a cool or unique item is great (who doesn’t like free stuff?) and it gives potential customers a “good excuse” to receive marketing information they probably want anyways.
Make sure they remember you. Be sure all your signage has your web address, if you make it hard for them to find you, you’re not accomplishing much by getting in front of them at a car show.
Direct them to your social media pages. If social media is a big part of your online presence, use QR codes or short URLs on signage to encourage fans to follow you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Have the foot traffic do the work for you. Put shopping bags with your brand or domain name in every customer’s hands, so that they become mobile billboards.
Hire a professional trade show/event model. Hire a professional event model (or two) to stand in your booth and sign autographs. Just make sure you do this where it is appropriate, as some events frown upon the use of models.
NOTE: Provocatively dressed female models have been a staple of the auto industry for many years, but times are changing. While this practice used to be considered “no big deal,” many people find this practice offensive. Therefore, if you decide to hire an attractive female model to grab the attention of the crowd, it’s a good idea to make sure that she is dressed tastefully and treated respectfully. Otherwise, you could be asking for controversy.
Bring a car with you. A cool old car, a fancy custom, a unique or new vehicle – these are all going to get people to pay attention to your booth.
Sponsor or award a car to get it into your booth. If you don’t have a cool build of your own to bring, see if you can sponsor a car if the owner will park it in your space (or give them an award if they don’t care about sponsorship).
Bring your employees with you. Unless it gets in the way of your business operations, bring the whole crew out with company shirts to answer questions, hand out flyers, etc. The more people you can bring, the more “legit” your online-only operation will seem to potential customers who are leery of buying parts online.
Consider becoming a paid sponsor at the event. This is another topic we’ll discuss in more detail later, but event sponsorship can be a great way to compliment an investment in a booth. The “trick” is to get the right kind of placement.
What this all boils down to is this: Online companies should absolutely market themselves offline. Figure out where your potential customers are going, buy a booth or tent at that show, and smile.