Go to class, win a Dart
Calif. dealer's raffle boosts attendance, brings good-will sales
Lots of dealers have given away cars to boost their business and help local charities. But a Chrysler Group dealership's annual $75,000 car raffle has pumped more than $1 million into struggling local schools and earned the dealership dozens of extra sales.
Last year, Victorville Motors, a family-owned Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram dealership about 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles, developed "It's a Gas to go to Class."
Eligible for the raffle are high school students with perfect attendance. The campaign culminates in a daylong festival in the spring where valuable prizes -- including two new Dodge Darts this year -- are raffled off.
Even though the contest is only in its second year, the impact on the local school districts is impressive because school funding in California is based partially on attendance.
Participating schools have enjoyed a fourfold increase in perfect attendance, significantly higher state revenue and better academic performance by students.
And the dealership says it has sold more than five dozen vehicles over 18 months as a direct result of the contest.
"I had no idea how successful it would be," dealer principal Tim Watts said.
Victorville Motors had long been involved in its community, raising funds and sponsoring events for local groups, Watts says.
But when one of the parents of a local Future Farmers of America chapter asked whether the dealership had ever considered giving away a car, the question planted a seed in Watts' mind.
"It wasn't just about us. We wanted to do it as a multilayered approach and an outreach that includes other local businesses," said Watts, 47, who runs the dealership with his brother Chet, 65. Last year the dealership sold 850 new and 756 used vehicles.
Two dealership employees, Kevin Smilen and Billy Mack, developed the idea for the annual perfect attendance contest. The first thing they did was reach out to local district superintendents to weigh interest.
"Every one of the superintendents was over the moon about it," Watts recalls.
Elvin Momon, superintendent of Victor Valley Union High School District, said that before the contest started, there were "maybe 15 or 20 kids" within his district's three high schools that finished the year with perfect attendance.
"But with the chance to win a car on the line? We had several hundred kids that came to school every single day," he said.
Six school districts and 12 high schools are participating in this year's contest, which will raffle off a pair of Dodge Darts. At the beginning of the academic year, the schools hold a rally where the prizes are shown and the rules explained. Tracking attendance is left to the districts.
Midyear, students who have maintained perfect attendance are eligible to win supplemental prizes, such as gift cards, as a motivational tool. And as the school year comes to a close, students with perfect attendance are given a special golden ticket.
That ticket allows the student to attend a final wrap-up event where the vehicles and other prizes are raffled off. In the contest's inaugural event, more than 3,800 people attended the final six-hour event, where sponsoring businesses set up booths.
Under California law, minors aren't allowed to win vehicles, so if the ultimate prize winner is under 18 the car is awarded to the parent, Watts explained.
Watts says the prize vehicles, with special wraps announcing the contest, visit participating high schools several times during the year. They also appear at football and basketball games, especially when two participating schools play each other. About 31,000 students attend participating schools.
The contest isn't the traditional kind of advertising message in that there is no direct or indirect solicitation. Victorville purchased special wraps for the exterior of four Dodge Darts to advertise the contest, though only two will be raffled off. But the product exposure and good will generated have been phenomenal, Watts said.
"We sold over 50 vehicles on the program during the first year, mostly to educators, who were delighted to see a local business helping out its local schools," Watts said. "And we've had 64 sales directly attributable to the contest over the first 18 months. It's been as trackable and achievable in sales results than I would get from traditional broadcast media, radio or TV campaign."
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at email@example.com.