A dealership’s plan: Food, fun and, ultimately, sales

When it comes to marketing, dealers have lots of options these days with Internet shopping commonplace and social media exploding. But while Georgia dealer Mike Bowsher embraces digital options, he still prefers the hands-on approach of good old-fashioned events.

On Saturday, Bowsher expects as many as 1,500 potential customers to drop by his Carl Black Buick-GMC dealership in suburban Atlanta. Carl Black Automotive Group is partnering with Ally Financial, Operation Homefront Georgia and the National Charity League Northeast Atlanta to donate 1,000 backpacks filled with school supplies for children of area military personnel. The families will pick up backpacks and enjoy live country music, games and refreshments all day Saturday.

Bowsher feels it’s his duty to give back. And he knows that people who spend a few fun-filled hours at his dealership will remember it when it’s time to buy a car.

“Our forte is events,” Bowsher told me after he helped pack up the backpacks at the dealership this week. “You won’t see us on TV or radio that much.”

Across his dealerships in Atlanta, Nashville and Orlando, Bowsher says he spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on event marketing. It accounts for nearly half of his marketing budget.

The group’s biggest effort of the year is taking as many as 450 customers to the Country Music Association awards in Nashville every year. The stores also host events and go out to community gatherings such as rodeos and food festivals. People will stand in line for an hour to get a Carl Black temporary tattoo, he says.

Making those connections, with no strings attached, eventually pays off.

“It brings people here. They touch the cars,” Bowsher said. “When they’re ready for a car, they always think of Carl Black.”

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