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Thousands shop market for motivation; At arena seminar, learning why big-name speakers come at rock-bottom prices

A star-studded lineup of motivational speakers converged Tuesday on First Niagara Center as the Get Motivated! business seminar rolled into town.

Attendees who left energized said they got more than their money's worth at the daylong event, but for a company whose business model hinges on up-sells, Get Motivated! Seminars may find its stop in Buffalo will have less favorable returns.

When Get Motivated! visited Buffalo in 2009, it played to a sellout crowd in what was then HSBC Arena. The influx of people snarled traffic, clogged downtown side streets and complicated the morning commute.

In other cities hosting the seminar, there have been reports of tickets being oversold by the hundreds, leaving large groups of would-be attendees waiting outside for space to open up.

But Tuesday, just 5,000 people made the trek to the arena. The parking lot bordering Scott, Perry and Michigan streets opened with rates of $30 per car, dropping throughout the morning to $20 and then $10.

With tickets priced at just $1.95 each, or $9.95 for an entire office, the Florida-based company that runs the seminars employs a number of strategies to meet its overhead costs and make a profit.

"The only way for us to make this work economically is to produce an event that is so excellent that attendees and their companies will want to continue to do business with us," said Richard Nash, the company's spokesman.

In addition to the cost of booking the venue, staffing the event and paying for full-page newspaper ads and radio spots, there are the speakers' pricey fees to cover.

Though they may get a discounted rate for booking the speakers for several events, rates for Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and former NFL star Joe Montana start at $50,000; Bill Cosby can command a reported $100,000, according to booking agent Web sites.

But the ticket sales for Buffalo's event wouldn't even cover former Bills coach and Get Motivated! speaker Marv Levy's $20,000 to $30,000 advertised speaking fee.

To recoup its expenses, the company relies on a series of up-sells.

Once attendees purchase their tickets, they are offered a chance to upgrade their seating to the arena's floor.

During the event, attendees endure a series of sales pitches, thinly veiled as inspirational speeches. The day's lineup is peppered with lesser known speakers who give infomercial-type sales pitches for seminars and other motivational programming. Get Motivated! gets a portion of those speakers' sales. The company's founder, Tamara Lowe, also sells her motivational services to the crowd.

"We are committed to ensuring that the speakers, content and production of the Get Motivated! Business Seminar will vastly exceed their expectations, and we trust that when their company needs in-house training, speakers for conventions, or business consulting that they will allow us to meet those needs," Nash said. Many in the audience were seen toting blue canvas bags -- a sign they had booked a seminar.

Once the event is over, attendees who have requested more information continue to receive follow-up emails with more sales pitches for other "continuing education" products -- seminars, books, DVDs.

The low ticket prices usually do the job of packing the house with customers whose wallets and purses can be tapped before, during and after the show. But Buffalo's low attendance numbers will limit the company's potential take here.

Still, it won't keep the company from coming back.

"While it's too early to tally up the results, we can say that we love coming to Buffalo, we were pleased with both the attendance and the response, and we'll look forward to coming back to Buffalo for years to come," Nash said.

For many of those who did show up Tuesday, the event did what it promised to do: provided a day full of motivation for local workers at a very low cost.

Nichole Thompson, of Lockport, was sent with about 30 members of the management team of a local Tim Hortons franchise. They attended for the group rate of just $9.95.

"My boss is really big on giving us tools that we can take with us to do better and help our workers do better," she said. "I did learn some things I could take away."

Brian Bookmiller, of Cheektowaga, who came with several workers from Time Warner Cable, said the day served its purpose.

"You come out of these things feeling like gangbusters," he said. "You come and get a little shot of inspiration."

Kelly McLaughlin, who came with three others from the Joe Czaja State Farm agency in West Seneca, said the day exceeded her expectations.

"I loved it. This has been really inspirational," she said. "I've learned a lot of good tips I can use to be successful, not just as a professional but in my personal life."