Wednesday, April 16, 2008

If I were King

Observations on the Economics of the Walkabout Tour

You know when you're sitting around with your friends talking about stuff and you come up with a great solution to one of the world's problems and you say, "Well, if I were king, this is how the situation would be handled". You are fully aware it will never happen your way for any number of reasons, most of which have to do with a simple fact: you don't have all the information. But we never let that stop us from airing our unfounded opinions. It's also important to remember we don't have any of the necessary qualifications to put forth our ideas. But, again, we never let that stop us.

So, it is in that vein that I offer up my observations from a volunteer's perspective on the the economics of the Walkabout Tour. I recently volunteered at the California Tour stop. I worked three days. It was a great experience. Sunday night after everything was packed up and good-byes were said, I still had a two and a half hour drive home. I was a little sleep deprived so I started with some loud music to help keep me awake. When that didn't work I thought that if I did some "active" thinking it would help my mind pass the time. Daydreaming essentially. It's like pretending you're Nolan Ryan in the seventh game of the World Series when you're playing catch in the backyard. Or, while on your home golf course, imagining you are on the 16th green at Augusta and your Tiger trying to make the putt. Or, pretending you are Bob Avila riding in the futurity, when in reality you're doing circles in some dirt field. For this daydream I would be in charge of the Tour stop.

The only reason I offer it up here is because my neurotic brain won't let go of it. If I don't get it out, it will rattle around in my head like a steel ball in an empty can of spray paint. Clinton talks. I write. Once I get this out I'll be free to daydream something else, something equally unimportant.

First, let me establish the fact that I am unqualified. I'm lousy at making money. And, that I don't have all the facts. This was my third tour stop, first time volunteering and I've only seen two venues. Yep, totally unqualified. And, I'm not suggesting they change anything. Clinton has smart people working for him and they do a great job. Still, that doesn't mean I can't Monday morning quarterback.

Okay, here are the highlights:

First I would have everything bar-coded. That way the checkout process could be sped up with scanners. People were sometimes 15 deep in the cashier line waiting to check out. How many gave up and said "I'll just order online" and then never do?

Having the checkout system computerized would give another very important piece of information: real-time sales data. Do handy sticks sell more after the first session of Gaining Respect? Do tie-rings sell immediately after the demonstration? When, in the two day event, are the greatest sales of dvds? When do the saddles sell? The first rule of retailing is inventory management and real-time sales data sharpens that. If you never sold more than 200 pink handy sticks at a tour stop, why pack 400? You might find hooded sweatshirts sell best in Montana and tanktops are the top seller in Georgia.

The second thing would be to make the check out more like a regular store. Instead of having the tables perpendicular to the check out line I would make it parallel. Look at Costco, Wal-Mart, Trader Joe's or any other mass retailer. They make the checkout line parallel so that everyone is forced to walk by all the impulse items (the key chains, pens, pocket knives, etc.) And, they make it quick and easy.

The DVD Displays

I would maximize dvd sales for a number of reasons. One, it creates loyalty. Two, let's face, the first dvd in any series takes thousands of dollars to produce, the second and everyone after that, probably costs less than ten dollars. I would look at a trade show where videos are sold and see how they display dvds. Stacking them up on a table, laying flat doesn't seem to me the most appealing. It's more like a bake sale. And the TVs. We had four TVs, and what 15 dvd titles? Hey, dvd players are cheap now. Those tv's were big, bulky and the boxes used to transport them were taped together with so much tape it wasn't funny (Well, it was actually). Again, proper merchandising would save space and sell more product.

The Merchandise and Displays

I wouldn't carry anything in a cardboard box - or very little. If it's going on the truck it better have a hard case. I would look at how the circus travels or at other shipping options that provided more uniform containers for transporting. It would not only make loading and unloading easier, there would be less breakage during transportation. I'd have a talk with Martin Saddle. Those saddle boxes should be at least 250 lb test. Not one of the saddles we had were in an intact box. They were falling over every time we tried to stack them.

And, again I would look at trade show technology. They make custom displays for almost everything. It's sturdy, attractive and easy to transport. The heavy metal display racks we used were good, but they were a pain in the ass to put in the truck.

The Show

Here's where you have to determine if you want to focus only on new customers or give established customers a reason to come out again. The three tour stops I've seen were basically the same. Calm down. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I learn or remember something I should be doing every single time I see Clinton. But, this particular weekend there was another horse expo a hundred miles from us in a different direction and our friends went to that expo because "They had already seen Clinton."

So what could be done with the format of the show? Here's the beauty of the real-time sales data I mentioned above. You could plug in different segments and, because you're keeping track of what's selling and when, you can tell if the segment works or not.

Again, not sure how the details would work but, what if the colt starting demo was with a colt who had been through the Handling Weanling and Yearling Series? We all know what the problem child looks like. What about one that had been started correctly? Maybe it wouldn't be dramatic but it would show greater possibilities for a horse handled well as a yearling. Perhaps two colts starting, one with training, one without.

What if there was a riding demo that included a rider who had taken their horse through the dvd series? Clinton's great, but he has a lifetime of experience. I want to know if someone like me can do it and showing a regular person, on their own horse would demonstrate that. And, wouldn't it motivate the crowd that, if the selected horse and rider were so good, Clinton switched horses? I remember the first time my parents let me drive the "new" car. I really felt like I arrived. Getting to ride Mindy or Diaz - wow!

So, there's more, but these were the things I thought were worth mentioning. This allows me to dump my brain so I can start daydreaming about something else like who will I choose to sire the foal I'll take to the futurity. My mare is a great granddaughter of Jessie James. Jessie James is in Mindy's bloodlines as well and if she could do it....
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