What do hot tubs have in common with Harley-Davidsons?

If you’re Alice Cunningham of Olympic Hot Tub Co. , plenty, considering both occupied her showroom floor for a month this summer as part of a cross-promotion.

“More than anything else, it helps generate interest,” says Cunningham, co-owner of the Seattle-based business. “It’s just a matter of getting your name out there and leaving crumbs for people to connect the dots.”

Experts and business/marketing consultants agree that cross-promotions are a time- and cost-effective means of reaching a broader consumer base. It takes legwork, but a well-thought out program can yield positive returns for dealers. Below are a number of guidelines to help ensure success. (For more tips on getting that first cross-promotion started, click here.)

Finding partnership opportunities

Cunningham’s Harley promotion, which was run in concert with a local dealer, played off an indirect relationship between hot tubs and motorcycles.

Riding season in the Pacific Northwest generally lasts from May through September. The connection to spas, then, became an opportunity to extend the season by an additional month or two.

“We know it’s getting cold outside, but the thinking is that they won’t mind it as much, or get as tired or as sore this way,” she says. “If you have a hot tub, you can ride longer and get more enjoyment out of it.”

Indeed, locating noncompetitive businesses that are interested in joining forces is crucial.

“There should be a lot of synergy,” says marketing consultant Shel Horowitz, author of seven books including Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First (Accurate Writing & More, 2003).

“The key step is to show the other partner the benefit of teaming with you, whether it’s an increased money stream, a consumer stream, or added exposure for their products,” he adds. 

Examples of possible partners include furniture, or other home items which play into themes of comfort and relaxation. Also, tie-ins with luxury services such as high-end restaurants or wineries are a natural connection, as is an upscale hair salon: “It’s a pampering thing,” Horowitz explains.

George Dalhamer has twice run cross-promotions with a local seller of high-definition televisions. Because he was able to secure a deal for one-year same-as-cash, Dalhamer stacked and displayed 15 TVs at the front of his store for the approximately 10-day events.

“Other than the fact that they’re entertainment, I don’t know that the synergy even needs to be there all the time,” says the owner of Hot Spring Spas of Dayton in Ohio. “The most important thing is to hit something that’s hot. And even with the economy in the shape it’s in, TVs are still hot.”

The right timing

Dalhamer’s first campaign with the TVs didn’t fare as well as the second. The one big difference, he says, was timing.

“One we did in the spring, and that was just totally the wrong time,” he says. “You’ve got to make the TV the drawing card, so we went back and figured out when the big TV-watching time was. It’s just before and at the start of football season.”

His subsequent promotion was held in September, and it was themed as a giant tailgate party. Complete with in-store materials and signage, the program garnered the desired attention and helped move hot tubs.

Indeed, a cross-promotion may very well be doomed if it isn’t coordinated to an appropriate time of year. Many events will naturally see greater awareness as well if they coincide with, say, a holiday.

One popular promotion could revolve around Christmastime “Santa Paws” events — where pet owners bring their cat or dog to have its picture taken with St. Nick. A co-promotion with a local Humane Society or animal shelter can bring attention and traffic to your store, says Molly Flament, retail marketing manager for Watkins Manufacturing in Vista, Calif.

“People who spend money on their dogs, as they say, have money to spend,” Flament explains. “And it’s an opportunity to get some good press and positive exposure.”

Cross-promotions with gyms and health clubs are ideal around New Year’s, when resolutions to get fit and purchase memberships are made.

Valentine’s Day certainly invites partnerships with wine stores and romantic restaurants, Flament adds, or even weekend getaways at a nearby hotel or bed-and-breakfast.

As for duration, Horowitz feels cross-promotions can last “for as long as they’re working.”

But not all agree.

Dalhamer believes they typically should run no longer than two weeks, and really closer to seven- to 10 days.

“Normally we do these promotions on the next-to-last week of the month,” he says, “so we can put a definite end on it. Some say you should really tighten it up — don’t give people the chance to go home and think about it, so to speak.

“There’s a lot to be said for creating a sense of urgency,” he adds.

Why and how to cross-promote

The benefits of teaming with a nontraditional partner are varied and tangible. And the advantages of broadening your customer base are obvious.

“We’re all looking at ways to spread more information about our industry to others,” says Will Kirchoff, director of marketing and sales at Sparkling Pools & Harbor Hot Tubs in Sag Harbor, N.Y. “And there are

opportunities all over.” 

Plus, leveraging another business’s marketing capabilities to boost your own product cannot be understated.

Experts note it’s also a time saver, reaching a wider array of potential buyers in a relatively short amount of time.

“You just need to make sure that your marketing methods fit with your demographics, as well as with those of your partner,” Horowitz says.

Running a co-promotion saves money as well, as partners share expenses and duties toward a common goal.

What’s more, cross-promotions often gain greater exposure and attention because of their unique nature — unlikely partnerships can quickly become newsworthy, especially when visible entities like charities or community organizations are involved.