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In 1936 Clarence "Pappy" Hoel bought the Indian motorcycle franchise in Sturgis, SD. And the rest is, as they say, history.
That little town in the middle of vast prairies, at the edge of the Black Hills in South Dakota is a remarkable model of marketing ingenuity. And it's the site of an event that's the perfect model for marketing your healthcare practice or wellness business.
Sturgis is a town of fewer than 6900 people near the southeast corner of South Dakota. It's a quiet, rural town that has more head of cattle than human residents. If you're driving through the area you'd miss it if you didn't know it was there. You'd miss it that is, unless it's August, in which case you'd wonder about the thousands upon thousands of motorcycles zooming toward it from every direction.
In 1938, the Black Hills Classic (as it was then called) was started by Clarence "Pappy" Hoel's Indian motorcycle club (called the Jackpine Gypsies). Seventy-nine years later the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is still going strong.
For one week of the year, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is the gathering place of bikers who come from all 50 U.S. states, Canada, and many other countries as well. It's the one week of economic boom for the area (clearing over $800 million one year). Attendance is between 400,000 to 600,000 each year (over 700,000 in 2015). Imagine that!
You'd think that Sturgis, South Dakota was the center of the universe for over 100 miles around the town before and after Bike Week. Every gas station and road side restaurant has a tent set up in their parking lot, selling Sturgis t-shirts, Harley Davidson gear, key chains, can cozies, and motorcycle parts and accessories. Temporary spray booths are set up and vendors do custom paint jobs and decals. And sell they do. The parking lots are seas of bikes, riders checking out vendors' wares.
On every road there are motorcycles and riders of every kind and configuration. Clubs and independents. Bikes with side-cars. Singles. Packs of bikers. Bikes with bedrolls lashed to them. Bikers riding in tandem with a truck. Bikes on trailers. Honda, Harley, Indian, Triumph, and all the rest.
They all have one thing in common: these are serious bikers heading to Sturgis, SD.
To anyone in a private practice or wellness business... take a lesson from Sturgis. Better yet, take a lesson from Pappy Hoel.
Sturgis could have been just another prairie ranch town. So part of the lesson here is that location isn't everything.
If that had been the case, there would have been no injection of cash once a year into the economy. Maybe another town would have become the Meade County seat. Maybe it would be famous for something else: a cattle convention, maybe, or a rodeo... or tumbleweeds.
But Sturgis is linked with motorcycles, and its yearly rally.
To me, this is a powerful lesson in marketing, and here are my top takeaways from Pappy Hoel's legacy.
2) Give it a Theme
The event doesn't even have to be about your business, directly. In fact, some of the best business ideas ever have come from combining odd ideas, or seemingly unrelated niches. That an enormous rally of individualists and loners coming together is kind of a odd combination if you think about it. So why not pull the same odd configuration off in your event?
Dentist? How about an art event or photo contest? You can start with your own anonymous patient photos of their newly straightened or whitened teeth, and then morph to other kinds of photos or art. Then see where participants take the art from there. How do they make the art their own? Can they do it in different media, large and small? Can they play with the art in groups of people and make something new with it?
Surgeon? How about a music festival, to add to your playlist for your office or surgery? Ask people what they like to listen to, and turn the event into a dance party, or a way to showcase musician-patients' music. "Battle of the Bands" (any lap-band surgeons out there?) or any play on words makes the event that much more fun.
You get the idea. You have your day to day, and you rock 'n' roll around your interests (or more importantly, your clients' or patients' interests) at your yearly event.
Then, do it again. Do it every year. Invite local media. Invite other local stores and vendors. Make it something people talk about all year long. Heck, you might even earn the nickname "Pappy" if you build it big enough.
3) Make it Social
You can actually build an event so colossal that it lasts all year 'round. You can do it bigger and better and faster than Pappy Hoel, too. Back in 1936, Pappy didn't have a computer, or the internet. But you sure do.
Have your live event once a year, and engage with people all year long as they continue to participate in the online version of your party all the rest of the year.
Think you can become famous for being the BarBQ cook-off allergist all year long?
4) Keep it Local
People travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to spend a week in far away Sturgis, SD each year. The event isn't franchised. The show doesn't travel. There aren't in-between parties (unless you go to Daytona Beach in March or October, but these are altogether different events in the biker world). Sturgis is a once-a-year extravaganza that attendees talk about as insiders speak in reverent tones about their club that has a secret handshake.
How about your practice? Maybe it's not as fun to go to the chiropractor as it is to a major bike rally. But you can put your local business on the map by creating your own hullabaloo.
And (here's where I get to smear some geek on this article) using local search in your website and social media (think Twitter, Snapchat, Yelp, and others) can really help rocket the event's success, too, while it's going on.
Pappy Hoel could have just invited the town to his new Indian motorcycle store, had a pig roast, sold some hogs, and called it a good day. But he went overboard... WAY overboard. Each year's rally was bigger and better than the last.
You can certainly build your event with all of the seriousness you want, or have all the fun you want. Maybe you host the best health fair in your state, to keep things professional and serious. But think about how to make it bigger and better next year.
Talk it up all year. Give people a reason to say to their neighbors and friends (on Facebook and over the fence), and to tweet, "Hey! Did you go to Dr. Sam's health fair? No? You missed the best party all year. I can't wait until the next one!"