What is SMERF? No, we’re not talking about those cute little blue cartoons that live in mushroom-shaped houses in the forest. SMERF is an acronym for Social, Military, Educational, Religious and Fraternal groups, and is often associated with sports, entertainment, and recreational groups. SMERF is a term used in hospitality to represent the smaller sector that makes up your group business. While not as profitable as conferences and business meetings, prospecting SMERF business can be overlooked, especially in a strong economic landscape. However, nurturing SMERF revenue as a part of your long-term sales strategy will ensure long-term stability. It’s a great means to diversify your strategy and ensure multiple streams of revenue from group business with long-term sustainability.
What does SMERF mean in hospitality?
By nature, SMERF groups are characterized by two things. First, SMERF events are usually unrelated to the participant’s full-time career. For example a SMERF group’s “planner” is often an individual who volunteered to coordinate the high school reunion in their spare time and more often than not, the designated SMERF coordinator isn’t an event planner by trade. Secondly, SMERF events are paid for with the participants’ own time and money, instead of being expensed by a corporation.
There are numerous benefits to SMERF group business. Based on the nature of their business, SMERF events can range in all sizes. This means that smaller hotels and select-service hotels can take advantage of this type of group business.
SMERF events typically fall on weekends, during shoulder seasons and off-peak times when corporate groups are least likely to meet. This makes them great compliments to weekday business groups and travelers. Because these groups are on a budget, this will help sustain revenue during quieter seasons.
SMERF business is easier to retain as they tend to have high loyalty to properties and they continue to meet even during a recession with little decline in attendance.
Strategies to increase SMERF sales
1. Analyze your current SMERF with a SWOT analysis
To identify what your strengths and weaknesses are, and what opportunities and threats are in the market you are facing. A great way to do this is to leverage your software and pull historical data on trends from week over week, month over month, season over season, and compare periods and trends. You will also be able to identify the highest grossing sectors, and most lucrative clients and see where you may have gaps within any given sector of SMERF. That way you can maximize what you currently aren’t and know where your strengths are lying. When looking at opportunities and threats, it’s important to see what trends are emerging – Are there any events taking place in the next several months in your city? Are there any potential disruptors in your city that may hinder SMERF at your hotel specifically? Are there any current events taking place locally, nationally, or internationally that may affect, say, a religious group? It’s important to be thorough when conducting this analysis because it will give you a great picture of where you currently are, and where to start when it comes to planning.
2. Target new SMERF business:
After conducting your SWOT, take a look and see what’s in your backyard – it’s easy to look at your backyard every day but miss the details of what you’re actually seeing. Perhaps you want to encourage more bookings from the religious sector and you know about 8 religious institutions off the top of your head that are located close to your hotel. Contact those churches, mosques and other religious institutions in your area and get to know the people by building a relationship. Perhaps, you drop by with doughnuts and introduce yourself. Make sure to exchange contact information, or provide a hand out like a pamphlet. Better yet, follow up by sending them an e-flyer and sincere thank-you message. Even if they aren’t looking to book an event next month, this will warm them up and make you remembered for when they do. Repeat x10 times, and you will see these leads go from cold to warm to eventually hot.
3. Add value for planners:
When it comes to planning SMERF events, the number one thing that prevents a planner from selecting a venue is a high cost. We’re not saying discount to the point where it’s not profitable anymore – not at all. What we are saying is to ensure that the planner understands the value of what you’re offering. A way to do this is offer add-on services as part of their package. A few things that you can offer, that is of practically no cost to the hotel are:
-Free hotel parking that day for guests – up to a max of ‘x’ spots to promote car-pooling, as coordinated by the planner
-A discounted stay – many SMERF events take place during the day but by offering guests of the event a small discount on a stay gives them the incentive to book an otherwise empty room.
-Audio/Visual equipment – adding this to the package will sweeten the deal for your planner so they won’t have to stress about where to find equipment, who to borrow from, or how to transport it there.
-Know how much your client can spend on F&B to be able to collaborate on the best plan for the event. By being flexible and providing sample menus and ideas before the event, this will be greatly appreciated by your SMERF.
4. Having a point of contact for your planner:
Because many SMERF planners aren’t event coordinators by career, it is important to ensure they are supported during the process. Ideally, by designating one point of contact for your SMERF planner, this will ensure they won’t be passed around or lost in between the shuffle of your hotel’s admin. It is a great way to relationship-build as they may be feeling anxious about taking on this project and having someone to guide them in the right direction will alleviate their stress. Having this point of contact will also increase the likelihood of repeat business, as the SMERF planner will have had an enjoyable experience and will know exactly who to contact next year for their SMERF meeting second time around.
5. Identify wins and opportunities for long-term SMERF success:
So you analyzed, strategized, won the business, negotiated the package, and assisted your planner through the whole process which resulted in a successful event. Now it’s time to look back and look at what worked, what didn’t, what things could have been anticipated better or avoided all together. Looking at past experiences is one of the best ways to improve so make sure to meet with your team post event to go over what things you’ll continue to do and things that you and your team should be working on improving for next time.
It seems like sales people are always wanting to win big business by booking conferences and business events but dismissing the “less sexy” SMERF events would be like investing all your money into high-yield, high-risk investments. Yes, you get a high return, but what if you don’t win that business in the end? You will have placed all your eggs in that basket and that can be extremely demotivating. Instead, mixing in SMERF business into your group business strategy will off-set these bigger, more lucrative events by offering low-yield, low-risk investments into your portfolio. Because these events compliment your corporate events perfectly, are recession-resistant, and are more versatile in size and time of year, this will ensure your hotel will be able to maximize sales opportunities for a successful long-term sales strategy.