Done right, a promotional sale can energize your store during a slow period. But if care is not taken in planning the event, it can turn into an expensive nightmare.

Here are tips for success:

Hire the right promoter: The most important part of the sale is the company or consultant who runs it for you. Most of these companies have a website with a toll-free telephone number. While it may be tempting to go for the one with the slickest site and biggest boasts, it is better to rely on first-hand information in selecting a promoter. Ask friends or old associates at other dealerships if they have had an outsider-run sale recently, and what their experiences were. Avoid do-it-yourself kits and advertisements that look generic.

Send out enough mailings: Some promoters may promise more, but it is rare to see more than 1% or 2% of mailings generate a dealership visit. That might seem disappointing until you realize that if you send out 10,000 mailings, you can reasonably expect 100-200 people to come in. For a traffic-starved dealership, that's a lot. The more mailings you send, the more customers you will see.

Send out the right mailing: The best mailings are those that condition the recipient to purchase a car. Viewed as a gimmick by many customers are scratch tickets with prize amounts that may be uncovered only in front of a dealership employee. Instead, use fliers that advertise particular deals or savings on a new car during the sale period. The oft-used $99 down, $99 a month may be a cliche, but it is effective at driving event traffic to your door and implying a serious vehicle purchase rather than a prize. Avoid any promotion that resembles a game of chance. Rolling the dice is not what many serious customers want to do in conjunction with a car purchase and a major financial transaction.

Target the right people: A shotgun mailing that is targeted too broadly will result in many uninterested customers. To get maximum benefit from your sale, send fliers to those who are potentially interested. Future lease maturities and former customers can be good sources. When selecting mailing lists, target those who live nearer the dealership. Consider excluding people who have bought a car in the past year or two; chances are slim that they'll be in the market again that soon.

Put up the big top: While a circus atmosphere can be distracting to both customers and staff, people still equate a big sale with a big tent. Putting up a tent and laying out food and drink and giving balloons to the kids can get people into a buying mood. If nothing else, your hospitality encourages them to listen to your sales pitch. Don't overdo it, lest the food overshadow the sale. Grilled chicken and burgers to order make it seem like you are running a restaurant.