Bringing the Aikens Experience to the Customer
Feb. 22, 2013
The inherited notion that fishing lodge owners and resort operators in Manitoba lock up shop in the fall and migrate south to warmer climes for the winter much the same as the seasonal ice cream "stands" operating in this frigid province used to do is simply not true.
Perish the thought of basking in the sun! The Dairy Queens and the great Greek burger joints have the "ice cream stands". The seasonal business of catering to anglers and wilderness travelers of all kinds has also evolved in becoming one of Manitoba's premier world class tourism products.
Winter has become a critical time for planning and preparing to deliver the "Aikens Experience" on the one hand and insuring that no stone has been left unturned in the rebooking of existing guests and the recruiting of new visitors on the other.
In a later story, we will give you a behind the scenes look at planning and preparing for the upcoming season at Aikens Lake. In this "newsletter", we will focus on the marketing and sales program which will bring a critical balance between income and expenses for the operating season.
Pat Trudel is the Sales Manager for Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge. Pat has been with the lodge since starting out as a rookie guide in 2000. He worked his way through the system to become one of our illustrious and celebrated "Head Guides". He became a year-round, full-time employee in 2007 and the lodge hasn't looked back since. During the season at Aikens Lake, Pat is the assistant everything while he and his wife Janelle also acted as hosts for the Great Gray Owl Wilderness Adventure Camp and handled customer relations. With their new addition, that role will change somewhat for 2013. Pat and Janelle seriously upgraded their home this fall in preparation for the arrival of their first born "Oscar Royal Maurice Trudel" who came into the world on November 6, 2012. Little Oscar is already aware that the phone rings all the time at his house and that for extended periods of time his Dad isn't even at the house. He also knows that if his parents are always so joyful, it must be that sales are going well!
Sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by phones and with Oscar seriously weighing every answer as he sat on Papa's lap, we asked Pat a few questions about his winter job.
Gerry: If you could Pat, please lay out for our readers how you conceive your marketing plan. What are your objectives and what is the methodology in delivering it to existing customers and new prospects.
Pat: First of all, let me say that working for Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge is never a chore because the staff, the management and the ownership group are so focused on delivering the best "Aikens Experience" possible for each and every one of our guests. It is a privilege to be able to work with my wife servicing the world's best customers.
That being said the job of sales manager is not as complicated as it sounds. We are fortunate to have a phenomenal fishery in an enchanted wilderness setting. We have a professional, knowledgeable and fun staff who provide guests with superb meals and incomparable accommodations, as well as using the latest and finest fishing equipment available. Those are the critical ingredients upon which our success is built and around which our marketing plan is elaborated!
Gerry: Tell us more about said marketing plan.
Pat: Our plan has all the normal components dealing with the 4 P's of marketing. although the "Aikens Experience" is unique to every guest, what makes up that experience is the same high level service and amenities that all guests enjoy. That is our PRODUCT.....the product that we sell and back with our commitment to excellence!
We operate in a very competitive marketplace so we try to maintain a tight balance between cost, PRICE and value. Our repeat customers benefit not only from our loyalty program, but they also get first opportunity to retain their dates in future years. A few select sales specials and payment discounts are available to everyone.
Although our guest are from just about everywhere in North America, we focus on PEOPLE/PLACES within a thousand miles, from Denver, west through the upper mid west to the Great Lakes. Nowadays, when people land at the new James Richardson International Airport, here in Winnipeg, they are met by the driver of our deluxe van and transported directly to Bluewater Aviation float plane base in Silver Falls and are flown directly to the lodge in approximately 2 to 2.5 hours. So this greatly facilitates same day travel to and from anywhere in North America.
The PROMOTION of the lodge takes on many facets and concepts that change all the time. Marketing and sales through the internet are booming and the need to keep up in the electronic and social medias is critical!. These things can get away from you in a hurry.
Gerry: Just so you can catch your breath, I'll interrupt and ask you to give us more details on your direct marketing activities.
Pat: Many things are new for this area, as always, but there are sectors that are completely new like the cutting edge digital front. Facebook is growing exponentially as are YouTube and Twitter. Our positioning through TripAdvisor has been excellent and visibly growing. Think Shift helped redesign and refresh all of our printed material. From calendars to brochures to newsletters...everything looks and feels new and fresh!
There has been a lot of shifting and transitioning in the sport show venues over the last decade. the travel and tourism components of most shows has given way to transportation and outdoor equipment sales. We will be exhibiting in only a few sport shows this year, down from 15 only 10 years ago. Denver is a very vibrant show for hunting and fishing. The people of Colorado are great and think Manitoba is very friendly. There are direct flights to Winnipeg and their connection to the Lodge is so quick. The Toronto Sport Show is another good venue for our lodge because of the availability and affordability of flights and because they are a discerning market, they appreciate the value in a high end product.
We have added non traditional direct venues to display our products. The Barrett Jackson Auto Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona is a new and unique opportunity to show our wares to high end buyers, on both personal and corporate packages. "World of Concrete Show" is one of the largest shows in the world and one we are evaluating for future consideration.
A great way of getting our product directly in front of perspective clients is by asking existing clients to invite their friends and associates to a presentation by Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge in the setting of a shore lunch or shore supper complete with succulent walleye fillets, fried potatoes and hot beans. We will be hosting four of these events this year and the first one has already been held in Toronto following the Toronto Sport Show in February. The second one is in Lincoln, Nebraska on March 5th, followed by Minneapolis on March 7th. The final Shore Supper will be in Brandon, Manitoba later in March. This is a great way to meet people and a fantastic opportunity to explain the program thoroughly.
In terms of other direct marketing, the ADS Group from Minneapolis produced a great HD video, which has become an integral part of all of our presentations. We will be mailing out over 4,000 information packages which will contain attractive and fresh new brochures, including calendars produced by Think Shift in Winnipeg. Our internet and social media program is capably shepherded by Beaubois Productions, also located in Winnipeg. We have not purchased any print advertising for this year, but as I mentioned earlier, we are active on the internet with Google and Facebook ads and other digital advertising.
Gerry: You've mentioned the "Platinum Package" on many occasions throughout the interview. Can you describe it in one word?
Pat: Two words....."Perfect Compliment" because it includes everything available that is not included in your package, that is, bait, tackle, boat upgrade for evening fishing, all beverages and snacks. Most guests save money on the "Platinum Plan" but all benefit directly from the worry free and hassle free nature of the "Perfect Compliment".
Gerry: What do you tell people who ask you about what else there is to do other that fish at Aikens Lake.
Pat: I tell them about the pristine boreal forest environment which is the gateway to Pimachiowin Aki Wilderness Park which we hope will soon be designated as a "World Heritage Site" by UNESCO. The wilderness is spectacular and waiting to be explored in so many ways. It is very easy to commune with nature at Aikens Lake. Its natural splendor has no bounds!
Gerry: Feel free to add anything we may have missed.
Pat: We touched on the corporate incentive and executive meeting clientele. They are a very important demographic for any successful lodge. Getting the "Aikens Experience" in front of the corporate customers is more complex , yet more direct. Pit and I spend considerable time and effort year round to set up trips for our clients that will meet their individual goals. Word of mouth is the best advertising and that is particularly true in the corporate arena. We then spend considerable time and effort in the off season following up personally on all of our leads and leaving no stone unturned in finding new ones. Unfortunately there are no shows or market places for corporate consumers geared solely to our industry so finding new customers in that field continues to be a challenge which we enjoy!
Gerry: We will now get Janelle, who has been patiently waiting with Oscar to join in answering one final formal question. Our readers are always interested in your answers to the one word question. First to you Janelle and then to you Pat.... Describe in one word your association with Aikens Lake.
Janelle: "Paradise"..... In the summer, I work with the greatest people in a place that is heaven on earth and in the winter I get to work in my home while raising my family!
Pat: "Proud".....proud to be associated with and contributing to a very successful enterprise and in my opinion, one of the best fly-in lodges in North America!
Gerry: Thank you Pat for shedding more light on the winter side of your job with Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge. It is a different pace and a different race than your Aikens job in the summer but one, it seems, from which you draw much satisfaction. Thanks to you Janelle and to both of you... keep up the excellent work!