New Chrysler council chairman slips in a sale wherever he can -- or bottle

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The difference between regular auto dealers and successful auto dealers is simple: successful auto dealers never stop selling, even when they're hundreds of miles from home.

Gary Brown, the incoming chairman of the Chrysler National Dealer Council lives this philosophy. And if you're near a place where beverages are served this weekend, there's a good chance you'll spot his handiwork wrapped around a longneck bottle.

Wherever he goes, Brown carries with him a pocket full of foam bottle koozies emblazoned with the name and logo of his Long Island, N.Y., Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram and Fiat dealerships. The name and logo are printed over the green, white and red collapsible koozie, which just so happens to look like the Italian flag.

Whether he's in a bar or a restaurant or even out with friends, Brown not only wraps his own beverage, he'll wrap yours.

"You never know where you'll find a customer," the affable Italian says in his thick Long Island accent. "I buy these by the case, and I always carry them with me."

It's a valuable lesson every dealer could learn. The traditional business model that treated dealerships like parishes with distinct geographic boundaries has been blown up by the Internet. That means that the competition isn't just the guy with the other brand down the street, it's the dealer with the same vehicle as you across the country.

In that world -- today's world -- relationships and name recognition can give a dealer an edge in a hugely competitive marketplace. And when that free koozie slips off the bottle and into the pocket of a potential customer, that's one more potential sale somewhere down the road.

Oh, and it keeps the beer cold, too.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.

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