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Community Involvement: Charity or Investment?

The title of this article is not meant to suggest that charity, in and of itself, does not have merit. Or, that you always have to get something back to be willing to give anything.

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The title of this article is not meant to suggest that charity, in and of itself, does not have merit. Or, that you always have to get something back to be willing to give anything. But, at the end of the day, you are running a business. When you give time and/or money in the name of the business, you are doing so inherently so people will be aware of your business’ contribution to the community and think better of you. Otherwise you would give in your own name or anonymously.

With that out of the way, let’s talk business. There are any number of ways you can spend your marketing dollars today. Traditionally, tire dealers spend those dollars on the easiest, most traditional (and, often most expensive) ways possible using media that has been around for years. Yellow Pages, outdoor, newspapers and radio reach a defined number of people and may build the image of the business. But, do they build loyalty?

Community involvement is not so neat and clean as hiring an agency and writing a check. It involves creativity, time and effort. But, dollar for dollar, community programs can build loyalty and extraordinary ROI. In many programs, you can measure the immediate sales based on the promotion. With community activities, the sales are rarely immediate, but they can be very long lasting. While a sale can be worth hundreds of dollars, the lifetime value of a customer can be worth thousands.

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I was recently pleased to be a judge in the semi-finalist round to help decide the 2017 Tire Review Top Shop. Without exception, every one of the candidates were thoroughly engaged in community activities. Some wrote checks, others swung hammers. Almost all were very visible in the process.

So, acknowledging the above, what are the best ways to go about giving things away for a profit?

Be visible. Don’t just write a check. Use (or create) events where you as the owner can be visible making a personal contribution. Since you probably cannot write a check to everyone who asks, focus on those who seek more than just money. Think of it in political terms as a “photo op.” It demonstrates a whole different level of caring than simply writing a check in exchange for hanging a banner.


Teach.
Whether you are helping with technical education at the local high school or sponsoring classes taught by others in your facilities, education is a powerful way to say, “I know what I am doing, I will help you learn it, and I am a trusted source when you need help.” Your “students” will remember their experience and your generosity. Send them home with a logoed shirt upon graduation to improve their memories.

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Sponsorships. Sponsorships imply involvement. Sure, you will contribute money to the cause, but by actively supporting it and personally (and through your staff) inviting people to be involved in the 5K run or the dinner to raise money for the hospital will demonstrate that you care about more than just sales. It will create a level of respect for your commitment.


Personality.
I read recently of a store owner (shoes not tires) that had a cat from the Humane Society that wandered freely around his store. It was known to all that the cat was adoptable and when someone took him/her home, the Society would replace it with a new adoptee. It was a little thing that cost the store owner nothing more than cat food and kitty litter, but spoke volumes about the personality and humanity of the owner.


Join.
Involvement with local business organizations (The Chamber) or service groups (Rotary) exposes you to new members of your community in a non-sales environment. You make new friends. And, friends do business with friends. And, they tell other friends.

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Employees, too. Having employees involved in community events as a member of your team shows a broader commitment to the effort. It also has a remarkable impact on employee satisfaction and pride of participation. Volunteering also provides the opportunity for leadership for your employees. This leads to increased staff performance and, in turn, greater sales. And, they might have fun at the same time. Make sure they have attractive logoed shirts to wear while they are volunteering.

A little bragging is OK. Some may feel uncomfortable bringing attention to their good works. But, unless you are donating anonymously, you are promoting your business. So, some signage in your waiting area and mentions on your website explaining your involvement and the economic value you brought to the effort is entirely appropriate.

I do not presume to write this article like you have never thought about or been given the opportunity to do things in the community involvement arena. I do, however, hope to encourage you to see this as a calculated marketing strategy. Rather than simply responding to requests, proactively seek out those that maximize your exposure for the number of dollars and hours spent.

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Of course, once you are known as an active participant, more requests will come in. To prevent abuse, establish guidelines for those making a request that state quite clearly that your company is committed to making a difference through involvement. Your donations will be limited to those where the greatest good can be accomplished by participating or around a cause that is embraced by your organization. For those just asking for a check, you can decide on a case-by-case basis. Those you cannot accept will understand your corporate giving policy and respect you for it.  

Roger McManus is author of  “Entrepreneurial Insanity in the Tire Industry” (Amazon) for owners of tire and auto service businesses who are trapped as the hub of their business wheel. Learn more at www.RogerMcManus.com. Roger works with the Automotive Marketing Foundation to engage tire manufacturers in a TIA and TDAC-sponsored connected social media effort for tire dealers and consumers. He can be reached at [email protected] 

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