How to lose millions of dollars in sales, quickly

Scouting sure is providing a lot of marketing lessons these days. Today’s lesson is about how a company wasted a multi-million dollar global opportunity.

With a tent.
Actually, it took thousands of tents, but it started with 1.

Not long ago, the World Scout Jamboree (WSJ) ended. It’s a global gathering of Scouts (boys, girls, adults) from all over the world. Happens every 4 years and is a huge (40000 people) event that in reality is a super ginormous campout (ginormous is a word, trust me).

Because they have such a big crowd, they have to pack a pile of people into the camping area in a pretty orderly fashion. That means that the tents generally need to be identical, at least on a group by group basis. In order to make this happen, they include a fee for the tent in your WSJ payment. One less thing to get hammered about during the security check-in at the airport.

This year’s WSJ was in England. It rains there. Keep that thought for a bit.

Here’s what happened with the tents that the US attendees received:

First, a description of the tent from someone who slept in one, and knows their tents:

It was a piece of JUNK. The USA folks in charge of making sure everyone got tents had so many bad tents there were quite a few USA folks who never did get a tent. Broken poles, seams splitting, the larger leader tents tended to fall apart and leak. Also, the tent manufacturer “went cheap” with these from their regular tents of this model. They took out all the ventilation, so the tents had no ventilation in the living quarters.

So, how many of the 40000 people who used these tents will buy one? My guess is zero.

Quite a few of the 40000 are adults, in fact, troop leaders who influence purchasing decisions for Scouts in their troops – often for decades.

Do you think any of those recommendations will be for this brand of tent?

Why would the tent company go cheap (and lame) on these tents?

Who in their right mind would provide a tent that is clearly going to leak when they know that it’s going to be used in rainy England? (see, there’s that thought…)

Devil’s advocate time: Let’s assume that the WSJ organizers ordered this poor quality tent on purpose (which I doubt), perhaps to save money (this event costs $4000ish to attend). Even if this was the spec they received from the purchaser (bad seams, no ventilation, leaky), no one in their right mind who knows anything about tents (as a manufacturer should) should allow a customer to order a clearly inadequate tent.

Better to lose an order for 20000-30000 lame tents than to fill it.

Here’s why:

Consider the marketing opportunity that this presents. You are providing a tent to 40000 people, kids and adults.

  • The kids in the group are still forming opinions about camping equipment. The WSJ is an event whose memories will stick with them for a lifetime. They’ll remember. They’ll buy tents every 10-20 years, maybe more often, for quite a while.
  • The adults in the group are in a position to advise large numbers about tent buying decisions for long periods of time. They’ll remember.
  • Finally, a small number of adults in the group have direct influence over the tents to be purchased (all 20000-30000 of em) at the next WSJ, a short 4 years away. They’ll remember. They’ll buy another couple of containers full in 4 short years – and the organization stage for that event is already underway. It’s a top of mind issue.

With that in mind, you have the opportunity to create tens of thousands of new enthusiasts about your tents. Camping enthusiasts are gearheads. They talk gear, they buy more gear, they advise tons of people about camping gear.
And with all that ammo staring down the marketing barrel at you…you provide them with a substandard, leaky, poorly constructed tent?

How many millions of dollars did that cost?