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Business Operations

Open Up and Reach Out

Experienced dealers share their secrets for successful sales-building events.

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Open-Up-Reach-Out

Duxler Complete Auto Care’s Glenn Moak (left) and Brian Moak (right) run a car clinic to help educate customers on proper car maintenance.

When it comes to the dozens of components that make up a tire dealership’s overall marketing efforts, among the most important are measures that build goodwill in the community and connect with both current and potential customers.

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More simply put, hosting events is good for the community and good for your business. A well-planned community event can make a huge impact, potentially for a fraction of the price of undertaking a new ad campaign.

Certainly, there is much to consider – cost, logistics and planning – so we enlisted the help of some dealers who have a wealth of experience when it comes to orchestrating successful events. See if your hosting and planning could use some pointers, or get some great ideas for a starting point if you’re new to event planning.

Event Benefits

In one word, Julie Yusim, marketing director for Duxler Complete Auto Care, says the main benefit hosting an event can bring a tire dealership is exposure.

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“There is no better way to showcase your facility, your amenities and your employees than by having people see them firsthand,” she says. “It also helps people to understand where you are located and be steeped in your branding for a period of time. When people have a good time at your event, they have a positive feeling about your business.”

Yusim notes Duxler, with four locations near Chicago, has hosted business-networking events for the chambers of commerce to which the dealership belongs, as well as car clinics for customers and the general public.

Performance Plus Tire & Automotive Superstore, located in Long Beach, Calif., hosts three major ev­ents annually – “Cruise Night” car shows and a daytime “Hot Rod Happening,” each of which supports the dealership’s annual food drive.

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“It gets people in your shop that may not have come before,” says Joyce Feldman, vice president of marketing and events. “It creates a great image in the minds of our customers and future customers. People know our business supports them in providing free entertainment and food three times a year – and they know we are generous to the needy.”

As a large, multi-location dealership, Sullivan Tire has a strategic take on events, according to Mark Sullivan, marketing executive.

“We love to hold events at our newest locations, where we can showcase our state-of-the-art equipment and modern facilities,” he says. “Conversely, we also create events around locations that aren’t performing as well as we’d like as a way to boost business. If you can get people in the door, you have a real opportunity to convert them into future customers.”

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Sullivan Tire, with 67 locations throughout New England, has hosted many events, including blood drives with the American Red Cross, customer appreciation events, ribbon cutting ceremonies for new store openings, car care clinics, play­er appearances with professional athletes, Touch-A-Truck events and appearances by IndyCar and monster truck vehicles. “We’ve also held some after-hour networking events with local business groups and chambers of commerce, which have been a great way to develop relationships with the local business community,” Sullivan adds.

He says that while benefits can vary depending on the type of event, a successful event tends to drive business.

Nailing Down the Details

When it comes time to choose the type of event and begin planning, first determine the end goal you hope to achieve for your dealership.

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“We start by asking ourselves what the ultimate objective is,” Sullivan explains. “Is it to network in the business community, bring foot traffic into the store or support a charitable cause? Ultimately, we also know what works after years in business, so we’ve created many repeat events.”

“I think it’s important to consider the attendees,” Yusim advises. “In the case of ‘Business After Hours,’ we know that we will be entertaining people who are great prospective customers for us.

“The car clinics are great on many levels: you are doing something really helpful for your customers and their young adult drivers; you also can open it to the community, in which case you can introduce your shop’s integrity and expertise to a new group of prospective custo­mers,” she adds.

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Feldman says Performance Plus has hosted its food drive for 17 years, growing the community support from feeding 20 families the first year to 850 in 2013. In an effort to support that cause – and to promote the fact that the shop is a leader in supporting vintage car and hot rod collectors – the company decided the car show was a natural fit, she adds.

Just as important as choosing the right type of event is creating a promotion plan to help ensure its success.

“An event is only as successful as its marketing campaign,” Sullivan reminds. “You can be hosting the greatest event in the world but if nobody knows about it, it’s only the world’s best kept secret. Look at all of the available promotional channels and create a robust mix based on your budget and resources.”

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He adds that Sullivan typically uses local newspapers, radio, direct mail, email, social media and public relations.

Look for assistance with promotion if the event will be hosted for a certain group, Yusim says, noting, “In the case of chambers of commerce, they usually promote the event for you; sometimes companies also send a special invitation to their customers.”

She adds that Duxler has promot­ed its events in e-blasts to customers, on its website, by using counter signs, posters and social media, and by sending press releases.

Another option to keep in mind when planning and promoting an event is to ask a supplier to help.

“We partner with tire companies quite often,” Sullivan says, citing Firestone as an example in bringing Indy cars and drivers to locations. “We also create local events and promotions that tie into a tire company’s national campaign.

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“Benefits include the added muscle that a large tire company can bring in terms of marketing, budget and other resources,” he adds.

“The biggest challenge is ensuring there’s proper communication between your local store staff and the team at the tire company. It’s critical to make sure there are no lapses in communication.”

Hot Rod Happening

Performance Plus Tire & Automotive Superstore hosts three events annually, including a ‘Hot Rod Happening’ which supports the dealership’s annual food drive.

Pulling It Off

When it comes to success on the day of the event, the key is to be organized and prepared for any challenges that may arise.

“Make a checklist of everything that needs to be done in the days preceding and the day of the event – and keep checking your list,” Yusim advises. “It is good to have a point person who is in charge of coordinating all of the tasks and intervene if there is a challenge along the way.”

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Some of the challenges Duxler has encountered along the way include running out for last-minute items, delayed food delivery and poor weather, which can negatively affect attendance.

“We have always had one of the ownership team take the lead on these shows,” Feldman says. “We encourage, but do not require, our staff to help at the shows. We do not pay them for this, but they know that doing these events helps us promote our business and gives back to the community.”

She says Performance Plus typically has 90% of its staff volunteer for events. To keep everyone on the same page, the dealership has a committee meeting prior to the show, in addition to keeping the entire staff informed at staff meetings.

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One thing to keep in mind when hosting an event is to ensure it doesn’t affect your shop’s business for the day, Feldman says, adding, “We try to get all the service and sales shuffled onto a day earlier in the week.”

Another challenge is ensuring that the staff is taken care of. “It is hard to work a whole day and then volunteer at night,” she says. “This year, we’re experimenting with having the evening events on a Saturday, rather than a Friday. We’re hoping that since we already close early (5 p.m. as opposed to 6 p.m.) and we are closed on Sunday, this might be better for our staff.”

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Sullivan Tire developed a checklist system that is used for all events. Sullivan says, “On the list are things like advertising, logistics (parking, rain plan, etc.), components (tents, table, food, etc.), coverage (is extra staff needed?), communication (do the store manager, staff and corporate office all have the necessary information?). We’ve tweaked the checklist over the years and now have a concrete system to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.

“Scheduling has presented issues, particularly when your event competes against another big local event,” he adds. “We’ve learned along the way to do our homework and research online calendars when setting a date.”

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Retaining New Customers

You’ve done the adequate prep work and pulled off a great event without a hitch. Now comes an equally important task – following up with event attendees. The consensus seems to be using financial incentives to retain new customers.

“We always send a follow-up correspondence thanking them for attending, with a special offer enticing them to come back,” Yusim notes.

“We put free flat repair cards in each goody bag for the show cars,” Feldman says. “We have the showroom open during the event, so they can see what a great facility we are.”

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Sullivan says his dealership uses a number of retention tactics.

“Coupons are a great retention tool, so we always offer coupons or special offers designed to attract repeat business. We also try capture names, addresses and emails. By offering a raffle prize, we can capture contact information and enter it into our database system right at the counter, making it unnecessary to manually enter the data later. Once people are in the system, we can communicate with them via direct mail or email campaigns.”

As with any marketing initiative, hosting a successful event takes a little creativity and a lot of planning. But the connection with your community – particularly potential customers – makes it well worth the effort.

This article appeared in the April 2014 edition of Tire Review. You can read the entire issue on your phone or tablet by downloading the Tire Review app.

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