Originally created 08/16/97

Investment seminars invading Augusta

Hotels and clubhouses are filling up with investment seminars as companies seek to connect with people interested in getting rich.

For example, the Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta estimates it has had 15 investment seminars scheduled there in the past two months. The Sheraton also reports a significant increase in seminars there in the past six months.

A strong economy is fueling the trend, seminar organizers said.

Military retiree Ralph Atwell attended Friday morning's Wade Cook Seminar's Stock Market Miracles Tour at the Radisson. He paid $200 to take Ken Roberts' correspondence course on commodity investing in April.

"I see an open window of opportunity that I didn't see before," he said during a break. "I'll say this about both of these individuals: I wish I had known about this 30 years ago."

Mr. Atwell was one of 22 men and women who spent three hours on a weekday listening to Kirk Bolinder deliver a spiel on the value of spending $3,695 to attend a two-day Cook workshop in Atlanta. Mr. Bolinder said he was including tapes and services worth $9,554 for the Augusta customers, but a call to the Cook headquarters resulted in the same offer.

Mr. Atwell said he wanted to use the profits gained from using information from his commodities course to pay for Cook's stock-trading course. Several other attendees said they didn't come to buy anything.

"You have to be careful who you take advice from," Mr. Bolinder told attendees. "If that expert is not a millionaire, don't listen to them."

Mr. Bolinder didn't disclose his net worth and refused to answer specific questions.

Seminar marketing can be a powerful way to win customers by getting in front of several prospects at one time, according to Jeff Sanford, Augusta area director of the University of Georgia's Business Outreach Services/Small Business Development Center.

Another benefit of seminars is the prestige they bestow on the presenters, he said.

"You look like the guru when people come to you. Once they have that relationship with you, it's hard to break that relationship," he said.

Seminars can also backfire, he warned. "If you disguise a seminar or workshop as information and it's nothing but a sales pitch, you turn people off."

Financial Planner Bill Eychaner with the Evans office of American Express Financial Advisors said a soft sell with useful information has worked better in the past than a hard sell. About half the couples who attend his seminars end up becoming clients, he said.

He sponsors free seminars, like many of those sponsored by local companies. Some even include a free meal.

"It's good for the client because it can be non-threatening sitting there in a crowd," he said.


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