Case 6: Take Care of Your Community
Marketing is critical.
No matter what a dealer does, no matter how a dealer does it, some form of marketing plan will be beneficial. Some plans will work much better than others. But as long as the dealer is working to get his name in front of potential customers, just about any positive thing will be helpful.
What the dealer has to figure out for himself is what works the best in his market. Granted, some ideas will work anywhere for just about anyone. However, many marketing programs are market-specific. Whether the dealer is giving away free café au lattes in Seattle, sponsoring beach volleyball in Malibu or hosting a golf tournament in North Carolina, just getting the name out there is vitally important.
Imagine hosting a barbecue and your entire town showed up. Quite a daunting task.
Now imagine that your town constituted only one-sixth of everyone that showed up. That’s a lot of sauce.
On Apr. 15, 2000 – tax day, of all days – Kelle Oil in Braman, Olka., hosted a 75th anniversary party for itself. It was a Saturday and a little barbecue was in order. "We wanted to celebrate in a big way," said Kristi Kelle, co-owner.
The big celebration took place over five hours, involved 1,800 people, and featured BBQ beef, pork and chicken, along with cowboy baked beans, potato salad and beverages.
"We just mailed invitations to out customers and actually, we were expected 2,500 people," said Steve Kelle.
Braman’s a small town – home to only 300 people – but it’s the home of Kelle Oil, which specializes in farm tires. The company was founded in 1925 by Steve’s grandfather, Walt Kelle. Aubrey Kelle followed, with Steve and Kristi Kelle taking over ownership from his father in 1985. The family tradition continues, as Steve’s son John is learning the business after earning a degree from Oklahoma State.
"Throughout the years, we’ve adapted to a variety of fluctuations in the market," said Steve Kelle. "Tire size increases meant we needed different equipment to do our job. Bringing computers into our business helped make our dealership more efficient. It’s crucial in business today that you always stay on top of the industry."
Big Birthday Bash
With the history it has, Kelle Oil wanted to make sure its 75th party was a good one. The Kelles wanted to commemorate the business and thank their customers for loyalty and support.
"We figured we’d have a drop-by barbecue, because that’s something that everybody likes in this area of the country and we have two catering friends that could help us," Kristi Kelle said.
The event ran from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., with hungry people coming from as far away as Nebraska. The fact that it was held the same weekend as the Oklahoma Farm Show helped attendance, as did several local newspaper stories, which detailed the history of the dealership. The Kelles even ran ads proclaiming the event.
"We started planning for it a year ahead of time," said Steve Kelle. "We also had to save up for a year because it was pretty expensive to put on, but many of our suppliers helped us with that.
"We gave away hats and t-shirts and toy tractors. We even gave away a couple sets of tractor tires worth a couple thousand dollars. Firestone was very good at helping us, as was Goodyear and Diamond Shamrock. Even John Deere dropped off two tractors for display."
"Our great customers are the reason we’re here," said Kristi Kelle. "We wanted to give something back to them."
More Than Just Meat
Obviously, there’s more to the marketing of Kelle Oil than just a barbecue. Radio advertisements play a big role in getting the company message out, especially in a 30-mile radius. The Kelles believe there are too many small newspapers in the area for print advertising to be effective and they feel radio reaches many more people.
Kelle Oil also sponsors local sporting events and weather updates on the radio – "Weather’s important to people in our area," said Kristi. The company also advertises in farm flyers and donates money to the different agricultural groups in the market.
But there are other marketing techniques that involve food. Every other year, in either March or April, Kelle Oil has Customer Appreciation Days. This usually involves a pancake breakfast or supper, complete with sausage, syrup and everything else. Just another thing that the company uses to promote itself.
Dealerships are always thinking of ways to promote themselves to their market. But what if not trying to promote the dealership was the best marketing tool ever? Would it work?
It certainly has for Olin Mott Tire Stores
Founded in 1955 by Olin Mott and based in Tampa, the Tire Stores dealership has grown to eight locations and 50 employees. And none of that would have ever happened without not promoting itself.
"What we do isn’t done to promote ourselves, but it just happens to work out that way," said the 80-year-old Mott. What the Olin Mott Tire Store does is give back to the community – in any way possible.
"I call it taking profits and putting them back into the community," Mott said. "We don’t turn a deaf ear to anything and when a need comes up, we step to the plate.
"The competition would have buried us long ago with their pricing practices and buying groups. But how we do things has put us on the map and part of our mission is to stay involved with this community. This community has been very kind to us and we’ve been able to make money because we were involved."
Mott and five others are the founders of an organization called the Joshua House. The $1.7 million facility is home to children who have been abused or abandoned. While the Joshua House has been a rousing success, it still requires charitable donations to maintain operations.
"I went to Michelin eight years ago and got them to be a title sponsor of a golf tournament where the proceeds would go to the House. Over the years, the Michelin Golf Classic has grown into one of the premier charitable golf events in this region."
Played on Martin Luther King Day on both courses of the Rural Woods Golf Club, the Michelin Classic has sold out all 288 openings each year and has raised a total of $1.5 million so far.
"We use the names of the sponsors, like Michelin and Shell Oil. We never use my name, although everyone knows I help out. Michelin calls something like that marketing, but I don’t think of it that way. We don’t look for any publicity, but it always crops up."
Mott is also a supporter of Future Farmers of America (FFA) and gives out the largest scholarships to Hillsborough County, Fla., high school students. And every year he helps put together a dinner for all the FFA teachers and their spouses, again without showing the name of his dealership.
Some of the other charitable things that Mott donates time and money to are two golf scholarships for high schoolers, sponsorship of a soccer league for disabled kids and sponsorship of nearly 60% of all the golf tournaments in the county. He even stepped forward and was one of the first to donate money to the University of South Florida when it decided to form a football team.
"These are all things that really work," Mott said. "You get a lot of publicity, but that’s not the reason we do these things."
Mott is adamant about charitable causes, believing that putting money back into the community is better than any form of newspaper or radio advertisements.
"We’ve gotten to be well known as being part of this community," Mott said. "We have to maintain a high level of integrity. We can’t do anything but make sure that everything happens just right."