As for obtaining permits, each municipality has its own regulations about when they’re needed and how they can be obtained. The Rubber City – Akron, Ohio – for example, requires permits for events that include games of chance, rides, petting zoo animals and, of course, alcohol, according to Glen Stalcup of the City of Akron’s License Division. He also recommends that dealers check with local departments of health and zoning, as well as a city’s service director, before planning an event to determine if there are other considerations.
Fleischmann and Griffin, however, both say that the events they’ve held haven’t required permits – though Enger’s have. He suggests applying for them 90 days in advance.
“We haven’t had to deal with permit issues,” Fleischmann says. “But we’re very focused on creating a safe event, so we assign several people to security. And, in some cases, such as with Bigfoot, we have contacted the local police and arranged to hire off-hour officers for support. We also are very careful to notify our insurance company of all events, on-site or off.”
“Typically, we work with the local community to plan traffic flow and manage the parking situation,” Baratta adds. “When we use inflatables, Bigfoot or other large branded show cars or signage, we work with the community to make sure we’re in compliance with local sign ordinances and other things.”
In the end, however, many of the community officials who become involved in dealers’ events tend to be guests, invited in what Griffin calls “good will.”
“For events like customer appreciation days, we invite police and fire to stop by and have lunch,” he says.
Baratta sees things similarly. “We typically invite the mayor, police chief and other high-ranking officials to attend and participate in ribbon-cuttings and other things,” he says. “It’s very important for us to be good corporate citizens who give back to the community. This is a value we share with our dealers and we’re very proud of the way we work together to involve the community.”
Setting the Stage
When Fleischmann held his remodeling ribbon-cuttings, he again depended on his local chambers of commerce, this time for promotional assistance. “With the chambers’ help, we had great local news coverage, talking about female-friendly auto service,” he says.
“To prepare for the event, we asked for some professional help to do news releases for the media. We were able to get this help through the chambers and it was very effective.”
Marketing companies like those employed by Fleischmann and Griffin also can help line up promotions, at a cost. But Griffin and Enger cite other resources that may be easier on a dealer’s budget: fliers, social networking, customer newsletters, in-store promotions and advertising or articles in local newspapers.
When Enger held a mid-summer event away from any of his stores – he rented space at a local harness track – he used the company’s Facebook Fan Page to build interest.The result was three days of solid attendance and heaps of good vibes. Cost?$0.
Regardless of the method, getting the word out about the special event is a critical element in its success.
After the Confetti
So, what constitutes a successful special event? Words of wisdom from experienced special event aficionados are wide ranging.
“For any event to be successful, you have to have specific goals and a very good plan to execute,” Baratta says. “It really takes a team to stage a strong event.”
“The first step is to figure out your mission,” Fleischmann adds. “What do we expect to happen from the event? What is our ultimate goal? If you don’t have those answers before you start, how will you know if it was successful? And last, but sometimes most important, have a meeting following the event with all involved, review everything – good and bad – and make notes on both for the next time.”
“Do it and learn from your mistakes,” Griffin states. “An event that works in one area may not work in another. But don’t be afraid. You don’t know until you try.”
“Flops are going to happen, so let the show go on,” Enger concludes. “Do not get stressed over things that aren’t perfect. Remember, it’s all about the experience and the love your customers feel after leaving. Was it a waste of time? Was it a value? Was it fun? Did your team have fun and build camaraderie?
“And leave the salties inside and away from the customers,” he adds of team members who’d rather not join in the festivities. “This event is bringing lots of new faces to your business. Smile and they will come back.”