Ohio Chevrolet dealership targets a captive market

awebb@crain.com

In its quest for customers, a Chevrolet dealership in Cincinnati is thinking big — as in the big house.

Jake Sweeney Chevrolet is writing to wardens of nearby state prisons, soliciting potential buyers among inmates who are to be released soon.

The plan is too new to have paid off yet, says Andy Furman, the dealership manager who hatched it. But Furman, who oversees the store's marketing, calls ex-convicts "an untapped market."

The dealership isn't overly concerned about credit risks among inmates. Tom Wilson, the sales manager, notes that some prisoners scheduled for release "haven't been in there for very long."

Fred Manegold, the dealership's general manager, predicts that newly released inmates will prefer used vehicles to new ones. The dealership sells about 1,000 new and 2,500 used cars and trucks a year, he says.

One prison targeted by the dealership is Lebanon Correctional Institution, 20 miles northeast of Cincinnati. The Ohio prison releases about 50 inmates a month from its population of 2,600 prisoners, spokeswoman Ellen Myers says.

The prison doesn't advertise private businesses to inmates, Myers says. But because of the dealership's promotion, she says, prison officials are prepared to tell them, "If you have automotive needs, there are many options out there, such as Jake Sweeney."

General Motors spokeswoman Susan Garontakos calls the promotion "a demonstration of the innovative ideas our dealers have for selling vehicles and for helping people transition into their life within the community."

Furman says his dealership's prison marketing effort is well-suited to the Chevrolet brand, which he labels "everyman's car."

Furman hosted a popular sports talk radio show in Cincinnati for 20 years before he joined Jake Sweeney Chevrolet. He has other ideas for shaking up the dealership's marketing and advertising.

Next up: On Wednesday, July 30, the dealership will host an "Over the Top Battle Royal" pro wrestling match in front of its showroom. c

Tags: Retail

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