Rather than maintain a stationary booth, an Iowa dealership rents golf carts to connect with customers at this year’s Farm Progress Show.

Although the majority of Farm Progress Show attendees navigate the grounds on foot, this year’s event in Boone, Iowa, featured an abundance of four-wheeled vehicles, many operated or sponsored by vendors willing to shuttle farmers to see the manufacturer’s latest equipment innovations.

But at least one precision farming dealer used this mobile marketing strategy to connect with existing and potential customers during this year’s show. HTS Ag, based in Harlan, Iowa, about 2 hours from the show grounds, rented 3 golf carts to transport attendees around the show.

“We evaluated the benefits of attending the show vs. exhibiting and saw an opportunity to do something different combining a little bit of self-promotion with customer service,” says Terry Johnston, precision specialist with HTS Ag. “We could have setup equipment in a booth, but it would have been the same things many of the vendors we work with would exhibit. It made sense for us to take our customers to them to get an overview of the new products.”

Johnston was one of three dealership employees driving golf carts, each with HTS Ag banners on top. The dealership had a stationary booth at the 2010 Farm Progress Show in Boone, but wanted to find a more personal and economical way to interact with attendees. In 2012, they set up appointments with customers at vendor booths, or took them to lunch during the show.

Terry Johnston, precision farming specialist with HTS Ag, in Harlan, Iowa, talks about the company's strategic approach to renting a golf cart at the 2014 Farm Progress Show to connect with existing customers and market to new ones.

Renting the golf carts this year was the next step, Johnston says, and rather than spending thousands of dollars on a stationary booth, the dealership spent a few hundred dollars renting the carts.

In advance of the show, HTS Ag set up an online reservation link to book hour-long blocks, free of charge. Johnston says the dealership marketed the opportunity to customers through social media, direct calls and emails. While a handful of customers signed up, the majority of rides given at the show were more spontaneous, Johnston says.

“Getting farmers to commit in advance didn’t necessarily work, because they didn’t know when they’d be coming in or what their schedules would be,” Johnston says. “But on the first day, I ended up seeing 25 customers of ours and a few more called our 800 number and got patched through to my cell phone for a pick-up time.”

One of the benefits to being mobile is the visibility, Johnston says, which can be a good way to spread brand awareness. But he says the real value came when customers or attendees hopped into the passenger seat of the golf cart.

“This allowed us to have an intimate conversation with the grower that you don’t always get at a stationary booth,” Johnston says. “We could find out what they’re looking for with technology or learn how we should be investing our money back into customers for service or training.”

For example, Johnston says he had several conversations with riders about the dealership’s yield modeling and variable-rate services through the 360 Commander platform.

“It’s something that’s new to most people and we were able to start the discussion about how it works,” Johnston says. “This isn’t a sales pitch, but it’s always nice when you can bring customers to you, rather than having to find them.”

Dealership management will evaluate the overall benefit of deploying the golf carts at the show, to see if there was a tangible return on investment. Whether any direct sales will come from this mobile marketing remains to be seen, Johnston says.

“I think it will bear out to be worthwhile,” he says. “I had a few people try and tip me, but I gave them my business card instead and told them if they ever need something, to call. There were a lot of touch points like that, so those interactions could certainly leads to sales down the road.”