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Mobile Marketing: New Ideas Driving the Industry

Well-known companies such as Salina Vortex, K-Tron, Alfa Laval, Safeline, and Sweco have all made the decision to go mobile with their goods. Karen Langhauser, Editor It's a secret the ice cream man discovered decades ago. The happy tune of the ice cream truck lures even adults into the streets, eager to sample a new flavor or enjoy a nostalgic taste of a childhood favorite.

Well-known companies such as Salina Vortex, K-Tron, Alfa Laval, Safeline, and Sweco have all made the decision to go mobile with their goods.

It's a secret the ice cream man discovered decades ago. The happy tune of the ice cream truck lures even adults into the streets, eager to sample a new flavor or enjoy a nostalgic taste of a childhood favorite.

Bring the goods to your customers, instead of waiting for your customers to come for your goods.

The marketing tactic is quick, convenient and effective. Today, equipment manufacturers in the food industry have caught on. In today's tough economic climate, rising costs and busy schedules have brought about a decline in tradeshow attendance, inspiring numerous ambitious companies to pack up their goods and take to the roads - minus the catchy jingles and the calories.

Salina Vortex, Salina, KS, manufactures slide gates, diverter valves and iris valves for handling dry bulk material. The company discovered the value of taking to the road years ago. After extensive success from sales reps' "hands on" presentations, Salina Vortex's first mobile display unit - an 8-foot X 16-foot cargo trailer - took to the road in the spring of 1995.

Roughly 400,000 miles and many successful presentations later, the company decided to add another vehicle to its fleet. In 2000, the 35-foot Mobile Display Unit RV began traveling the country.

Salina Vortex has discovered that mobile units are an ideal way to get a foot in the door, especially if companies are currently using a competitor's equipment. An up-close, hands-on experience for customers often proves far more valuable than phone calls or catalogs.

"Our quotes and bookings from truck calls are high - one reason for that being that the mobile unit makes it quick and easy for potential customers to see what we have to offer firsthand," said Kevin Peterson, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Salina Vortex.

The "personal touch" provided by the mobile display units is a big reason for its success as a marketing tool. Equipment manufacturers can give detailed demonstrations, answer questions and consider the unique, individual concerns of each plant they visit.

Francis Pedapati, Engineer at Weetabix Ltd., the largest breakfast cereal manufacturer in England, experienced the effectiveness of the mobile display unit firsthand. Three years ago, the Salina Vortex RV visited Pedapati's plant, giving an impressive demonstration of its products.

"I was impressed when I saw how well the Salina Vortex valves were made - the cut-out valve portions onboard the RV gave a good demonstration of the valve quality," said Pedapati.

Since its visit from the RV, Weetabix has increased its purchases from Salina Vortex and continues to be a valued customer.

But it's not quite as simple as packing up your goods and hopping in the RV. Peterson notes that initiating and maintaining a mobile display unit program requires a focused effort from all parties involved. "Our sales engineers need to be extremely dedicated on the road," said Peterson.

In the case of Salina Vortex, sales engineers are responsible for both giving the presentations and driving the RV. Sales engineers work in shifts, flying out to locations, driving from plant to plant, and then leaving the RV for the next sales engineer to take to his/her scheduled appointments. Learning to drive the RV required training, certifications, tests and licensing.

Other companies, such as Alfa Laval Inc., have hired professional drivers to operate its units (This decision often depends on the size and type of vehicle being used). Sales engineers and area reps meet the 48-foot trailer at scheduled stops in order to give their presentations.

Alfa Laval's trailer debuted this June, when it embarked on a six-week tour of Northwestern states. The trailer was unveiled partially as a result of Alfa Laval's success with its 2002 process industries tradeshow trailer.

The new trailer features heat transfer, separation, and fluid handling products and services. The custom trailer was designed specially "to fit in with Alfa Laval's advertising exhibition concept," says Kimberly Dickerson, communications manager at Alfa Laval Inc.

Building brand awareness is yet another bonus of the mobile exhibition concept. As vehicles travel the country, they become recognizable not just to existing customers, but to potential customers alike. How many times have you been stuck in traffic and found yourself reading the sides of the trucks around you?

As well as benefiting the customer, these tours have also proven beneficial to equipment manufacturers on a financial level. K-Tron International's story is similar to that of Salina Vortex. After numerous customer seminars and road shows, the Pitman, NJ company was plagued by large freight bills and the burden of shipping huge crates from hotel to hotel. After extensive research, including speaking to companies currently employing mobile display units, such as Salina Vortex, K-Tron took out a three-month lease on a truck and gave the mobile experience a try.

The unit was such a success, that it now makes two to five stops per day, backing right up to factory doors, using a generator to run the on-board equipment such as the feeders, vacuum conveyors and controls. The 24-foot heated, air-conditioned, carpeted truck is "outfitted like a mini-tradeshow," explains Kathy Hunter, Director of Global Marketing at K-Tron Feeder Group.

The mobile unit allows plant personnel to see solutions they previously may not have even known were available to them. The truck, which is on the road for nine to 10 months out of the year, visits thousands of customers. It has been all over the continental United States and Canada, including taking a ferry trip across Lake Champlain.

Besides being a valuable sales tool, Hunter points out that the truck can also serve as a vehicle for training or service.

Similar to other companies, K-Tron sends a schedule out to reps in advance, alerting them to when the truck will be in their area, and reps schedule appointments in accordance with this schedule. Each rep has the opportunity to add his/her own flair to the mobile unit experience -- extras such as barbeques outside the truck, coffee and donuts, and gift and brochure handouts are some of the customer enhancements.

Whether a trailer, truck, RV or even a train (Siemens Energy & Automation Inc. has a 14 rail-car demonstration unit traveling the country), the mobile unit concept is paving new ground for food equipment marketing. While there is no telling for sure where the future of the industry will go, it just might need wheels to get there.