So you’ve decided on a trailer for your mobile tour or experiential activation and now it’s time to find a vendor to work with. This decision is one that is often overlooked or minimized during the process, but is one of the most critical decisions you’ll make to determine the success of your program.

It’s likely that when sourcing a trailer, your account coordinator or account manager simply pulls up Google and types in “marketing trailer”, “trailer rental”, or something similar. He or she then spends a few minutes clicking through various search results, submitting quote requests to a few that look promising, and ultimately choosing the cheapest option so as to maximize the activation budget.

While this may sound good in theory – especially to the procurement team, who would rather the vendor pay you to lease their trailer – it may cost you more in the long run. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when sourcing your next trailer.

1.  Vet your vendor

It sounds simple enough, but believe it or not, this doesn’t always happen. With the pressures of keeping costs down, the lack of time available in most experiential programs, and sometimes even the inability for the person doing the sourcing to be the purchasing decision-maker, it’s far easier to simply find a good price, stick with the vendor you’re familiar with, or use a recommendation from a colleague.

Can those options work out? Sure.

But whether your budget is a few thousand or multi-million, isn’t the goal to produce the best possible program for your client so they are happy and you can earn repeat business with them? If so, spending a bit more time vetting your vendor will pay off.

Pick up the phone and call. Get to know who you’re going to be buying or renting from. Ask to see past examples of their work. Go see their facility and meet with them in person, or offer to host them in your office to present their capabilities to your account team and/or production team. 

A good quality vendor will welcome these asks because it’s a chance to prove themselves. It also shows you that they’re willing to go the extra mile to earn your business. And if they do earn your business they’re going to work hard to get it right because they also want your repeat business.

2.  Cheaper isn’t always better

I can’t stress this one enough. As a high-quality trailer vendor, we hear the following statement all the time from people who have purchased cheap trailers elsewhere:

“I got a great deal on my trailer from [insert trailer company here] but all I’ve had is problems. Can you fix it for me?” 

We’re happy to fix them, but we would rather sell you a quality trailer that will work exactly the way you need it to from the start.

Just in the past week, we have had two different marketing trailer customers contact us to get them out of a mess they got themselves into by trying to go cheap.

One was a well-known agency that sourced their trailer from Canada and it fell over when they were trying to make a turn. When they brought it into our shop, we were shocked that someone would put this on the road. It’s so unstable that it’s a danger to not only the tour staff pulling it but other people on the road.

Imagine the liability issues the agency would have faced if the trailer had landed on and injured (or killed) someone when it fell over. Do you want your client’s name to be attached to that? Do you want to put your tour staff in that position?

The other situation was a brand who sourced their trailer directly, also from Canada, and had an on-site consumer injury because the trailer vendor didn’t properly and safely install the equipment. Now they’re scrapping the whole thing and building a new trailer.

This is basic stuff that a trailer fabricator should know, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. If you try to skimp on costs, it’s likely going to come back and bite you down the road.

If the trailer is the centerpiece of your activation – a mobile tour, a market-based sampling program, a pop-up, etc. – put the right investment into it. The client’s product should be the star of the activation, but a poorly-built trailer can turn your activation into a B-movie. Is that how your client wants to be perceived?

3.  Take your vendor’s advice

I get it. Your creative team or strategy and ideation team has a great idea. Their rendering looks fantastic and you’re excited to present this idea to your client. There’s nothing wrong with that.

However, if it involves a trailer, make sure to consult with your trailer vendor before promising something that may not be feasible. Creative teams serve a vital purpose at agencies, but sometimes their big ideas don’t necessarily fit with reality.

If your trailer vendor suggests a different way of doing it, heed their advice. Assuming you have already followed Tip No. 2 and found a reputable trailer partner, trust that they are experts at designing and fabricating trailers and if they’re building your trailer they want your program to succeed just as much as you do. They’re not going to steer you wrong.

I learned this myself a few years ago when I was an Account Manager at an agency in Chicago. We needed a trailer for a national product sampling tour. Our tour staff would be cooking in the trailer and serving samples at events and retail stores. The trailer vendor that we used at the time gave us two options: a food trailer and a step-van food truck. We and our client fell in love with the food truck despite the vendor’s recommendation that step vans weren’t designed to drive long distances.

Sure enough, by the time it arrived in Los Angeles for tour launch, it needed all new brakes and other work done. It pushed back our launch by a week and cost us more money from the start. We also had to increase our drive days in between markets – losing out on activation time – and faced other issues throughout the 20-week tour.

All of this could have been avoided if we had taken our vendor’s advice and gone with the traditional food trailer instead.

Another side effect of that decision was that with the step van, our tour staff had no way of getting around once it was parked at an event for the whole weekend. Or if they were at their hotel and needed to run out to get food, they had to drive the food truck. This led to them expensing Ubers and Lyfts, and thus, eating up our budget. With a food trailer like the vendor suggested, they would have had a truck to get around in.

You may love an idea, but your trailer vendor knows what they are talking about, so if they recommend a different way of doing it, don’t blow them off.

4.  Involve the vendor throughout the pitch process

This is similar to Tip No. 3, but expanded a bit. The sooner you engage with your trailer vendor, the better product you’re going to get. In the experiential world, you don’t always have the benefit of time, but the more you can maximize that time with your trailer vendor, the better off you will be.

As soon as you get that RFP and decide on using a trailer, get the conversation started. Send your trailer vendor a mockup of what you would like it to look like. Describe how you intend to use it, where you intend to take it, and what the main goal of your program is. A good partner will help provide input into consumer flow, spacing, towing variables, and much more.

We aren’t here to tell you how to do things, but rather to help guide you toward the best possible outcome for any activation that involves a trailer. As mentioned above, this can help you avoid pitching something to your client that can’t be done. It can also help save you money because we can mutually decide on the best fabrication items and it gives the vendor adequate time to accurately quote, rather than building in too much buffer because of unknown variables.

Conclusion

It’s like anything in business. You’re never going to get it cheap, fast, and high-quality. If you want it cheap, you better be okay with sacrificing quality. If you want it fast, it’s going to cost you. If you want it high-quality, how much time do you have?

As you are sourcing trailers, ask yourself which of those three you are most willing to give up. More importantly, ask your client which of those three they are most willing to give up.

I’m not saying Advantage Trailer is the only trailer vendor you should ever use. There are many good and reputable trailer fabricators. Take the time to find one, and if there is one vendor you’ve been defaulting to for years, simply because that’s who you’ve always used, consider looking around to see what else is out there.

We would love to be in the conversation. With 30 years in the trailer business, we have done everything imaginable, so you can trust that we know what we’re doing. We’ve worked with agencies and brands, large and small.

I personally spent more than a decade in client service at two different agencies in New York and Chicago. I have managed multi-million dollar programs for clients. I have worked with trailer vendors to fabricate trailers. I’ve been in your shoes and now I’m on the vendor side, which means I can be a big asset to you.

I’m happy to come meet with your account teams or production teams to discuss how we can work together. I’m happy to give you a trailer quote for your next RFP. I’m happy to talk through how a trailer can benefit your next experiential program. Give me a call at 630-529-2029 or email me at Justin@advantagetrailer.com