Exactly twelve months ago True Radius Marketing was analyzing data daily attempting to understand when consumer demand would come to a halt due to the new pandemic. Our fears, the data and reality didn’t align. The work from home mob, the OPE “essential service” classification and stimulus checks instead generated new demand for OPE products.  Simultaneously, manufacturing reduced operations to slow the spread of COVID.

It took 10 months, but the pipeline in most cases is now very clean.  Manufacturers are shipping as fast as they can build, warehouses are empty, trucks are half-full and dealer shelves are going bare. All just in time for Spring…  So as a dealer how do you adapt and adjust as the second shoe drops?

First, remember supply will catch up with demand – it always does and unfortunately it will likely not be at an ideal time. Manufacturing and distribution will continue to push product to you as production catches up. TRM may not be of much help figuring out how to best fit a truckload of mowers on the floor with snowblowers in October, but we do have some thoughts on marketing’s best practices. Here are our top 10 thoughts on how to keep your customers engaged and ready to buy when the inventory becomes available.

  1. Don’t panic! Customers will shop and inventory shortages will be the norm, not the exception. Chances are that the store down the road will not have what your customer needs either.
  2. Know that when customers do show up in person, they are more ready to buy than ever before. Average dealer visits prior to a major purchase are now trending below 1.5 visits. Shoppers educate online first and show up at your store to buy, now.
  3. If you did not have a good website in 2020 you lost business – period. “Good” does not mean circa 2005 good. Your website needs complete details for all your products, promotions, and services.
    • To compound this issue, people are performing more searches to find inventory. If they do not find a local dealer at the top of Google on their first attempt, they usually end up at the manufacturers dealer locator. If you do not have the right content on your site, manufacturers won’t link to it and the customer will be sent to the next closest dealer.
    • If this applies, do yourself a favor and spend $200 a month on a real website and stop the bleeding.
  4. Turning off marketing is not the answer, staying flexible is. A competitor is always ready to intercept your customers and start building a relationship. This happens more online today than in-person.
    • Search Engine Optimization (referred to as SEO) should naturally happen with a good website, but you can buy enhancements, be leery of snake-oil, if it sounds too good and too easy: it is. This should be a small portion of your budget.
    • SEM (Search Engine Marketing – or Google Ads) should still be the first dollar invested, searching will only increase with limited inventory. Search messaging is the easiest to adapt when inventory shifts. This can be done by adjusting which competitive products you target and how ad copy is written.
    • Display and social should be used to build store and brand awareness, but in times of product scarcity, real-time messaging should also educate customers on product availability.
    • Keep up with your reputation. When customers get restless and are forced to look for new places to buy their equipment, they will rely on ratings and reviews. Make sure your business stacks up well so it doesn’t get passed by due to one bad review.
  5. Utilize your agency, media partners and marketing department to help you best address your unique situation. You will be working hard this year, make sure they hold up their end of the bargain.
    • Don’t sign long-term advertising contracts with no flexibility. You need the ability to pivot and adjust to market pressures and opportunities.
    • Watch your inventory and have your agency adjust advertising messaging to coincide.
    • Shift emphasis to in-stock models.
    • Highlight services like tune-ups that may tide customers until new products arrive.
  6. Shift your marketing message focus to “In Stock NOW”, sell what you have, and set expectations for the “COMING SOON”.
    • Customers will click the next dealer on Google if they get wind that you don’t have what they need, and this certainly won’t aid walk-in traffic.
    • Generically present the message “inventory available” to at least start the conversation.
    • If you have inventory tools on your website, be careful to not expose too much information to your customers. Turning off inventory feeds and sticking with catalogs may serve you better than painting the picture you have bare shelves.
  7. Generate leads at every possible opportunity and religiously follow-up.
    • Consider more formally creating a deposit/reservation process to get the customer locked.
    • Utilize tools like loan pre-approvals to build another reason to do business with your store.
  8. If you have not tried Text Marketing or don’t use a CRM system (client-relationship management), now is a great time to start. Keep light, regular contact with customers while waiting for trucks to arrive. This will keep them loyal and off the market.
  9. Consider “on the fly” events to capitalize on inventory scarcity.
    • The “One Day Truckload Event” get them while they last approach will mean more this year.
  10. Do not put it on sale, this is a year to make full margin to make up for the added business complexity 2021 is generating.

In summary, take every opportunity to build deeper relationships with your customer base in 2021. Pausing marketing could cause long-term damage to your customer connections and market share. Be patient, this is a blip in the potential lifetime value of a customer. The inventory challenge is everywhere, but the dealers who handle it with the most poise will come out far ahead.

Best of luck!
Todd Riley
President, True Radius Marketing