Finding new ways to build a customer base

With car buyers increasingly using the Internet for research and cross-shopping, the age-old challenge of driving traffic to your dealership becomes tougher -- but more important than ever.

That has dealers getting creative as they work to build relationships with consumers in their markets. Florida dealer Jim Scott hosted a professional wrestling tournament at his Ford store this month. No cars were sold during the free event, but he hopes audience members come back when they're ready to buy.

DCH Auto Group has done free safe-driving checks on vehicles driven by teenagers. It also hosts meetings of local chapters of SADD -- Students Against Destructive Decisions -- in some of its stores. No doubt some of those teens and their parents will remember the DCH stores when they need service work or are ready to replace a vehicle.

Brad Bickle, CEO of Stanley Automotive Enterprises, with stores in rural Texas, told me recently that he sends sales representatives, wearing their Stanley shirts, out to community events such as rodeos and soapbox derbies. Reps are now required to make a minimum of two contacts a day, either inside or outside the stores.

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