Every July, about 400 fishermen launch their boats at dawn onto the Kenai River in Alaska. Hosted by Spenard Builders Supply, the spectacle is arguably one of the biggest in the LBM industry and one of the largest fishing tournaments in the state. The weeklong bash includes catered meals, salmon barbecues, professional fishing guides, and free hotel rooms.

"It's proven to be a very good event for our customers and key suppliers," says Ed Waite, Spenard's president. "We love the opportunity to hold this event."

From golf outings to fishing trips to cookouts to cocktail parties, pro dealers have long used get-togethers to whoop it up with customers and employees. But as tough times dog the market, dealers find themselves trying to reach a balance between saying thank you to customers and not breaking the bank. Some stick with the status quo and savor the benefits. But others have concluded a summer barbecue in the yard or traditional golfing event with 100 top customers doesn't always produce the intended reward.

Spenard, the 21-unit Alaskan arm of ProBuild, brings out the owners and managers of both commercial and residential contractors for its fishing trip on the Kenai, located in south central Alaska. The river is one of state's most popular fishing destinations, known for its twice-yearly runs of king, silver, and red salmon and annual run of pink salmon.

The weeklong event starts with catered dinners for about 20 commercial contractors and their spouses, followed by a day of fishing with guides. The event is repeated the next night and day for an equal number of residential builders. Spenard picks up the hotel costs. A large group dinner is held on Thursday of that week. Then comes the main event, when about 400 customers and vendors cast off from the river at dawn.

The adventure calls for about 100 chartered boats, and a guide accompanies each four-person party. Fishing takes place between 6 a.m. and about 2 p.m., followed by a salmon barbecue. Spenard encourages participants to release any fish that are caught, but it's not required. The sizes of the largest and longest fish are recorded for vendor-donated prizes, including fishing equipment, tools, and generators.

While Spenard receives some financial help from vendors, the dealer pays for most of the event. That includes air travel between Anchorage and Kenai, a banquet at the local sports arena, hotel rooms, bus transportation between venues, and the rental of boats, guides, and gear. Count also the manpower of 30 Spenard employees who help put on the event. Waite declined to tell the cost, other than to describe it as "a major expenditure."

REELING 'EM IN: The annual fishing tournament hosted by Alaska's Spenard Builders Supply might be the biggest LBM event in the country. It features 400 customers and vendors, 100 chartered boats, catered meals, barbecues, prizes for the biggest catches, and free hotel rooms. "It's proven to be a very good event," Spenard president Ed Waite says. But given the economy, 2009's event "definitely will be smaller."