Dealer builds 'communal buzz' with rent-free events

Party with the Porsches at Ohio store

Dealer builds 'communal buzz' with rent-free events

Service bays are the backdrop for a bat mitzvah. The store hasn't hosted a wedding yet, says the general manager, but “it's just a matter of time.”
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Bar mitzvahs, runway fashion shows, fundraisers, dinners and after-parties are among the events held at Porsche of Beachwood in Beachwood, Ohio.

"We have not done a wedding reception yet, but I imagine it's just a matter of time," says Jason Grimm, the dealership's general manager.

Grimm wanted Porsche of Beachwood to stand out in the affluent suburb on the eastern edge of Cleveland.

About two years ago, he began offering free use of the $12 million dealership to charity organizations, community groups and private residents for events, which are held mostly during nonbusiness hours.

The return he gets -- in good will and potential future customers -- has been priceless, he says.

"We have sold a handful of cars, probably three or four, directly from events," Grimm says. "Now, how many more do you sell from people who say, 'Hey, I was at this event one time' or 'I heard of an event my friend held there?'

"Showroom drivers are what we're looking for" he says. "What better way to do that than create a communal buzz on how beautiful the store is and how welcoming the staff was."

Since starting the program in 2011, Porsche of Beachwood, which sells about 360 new and 600 used cars a year, has hosted about 25 events.

Penske Automotive Group Inc., the second largest dealership group in the United States based on retail sales, opened the store in August 2011 in the city of about 12,000.

"Our community is right next door to where CEO Roger Penske grew up in Shaker Heights," Grimm says. "So when this store opened up, it was a big deal."

The grand opening drew more than 650 people, Grimm says. It was a spectacle, with professional lighting and catering. It generated a lot of after-event buzz and online photos, he says.

At that point, Grimm realized "this place could really be a cool venue."

Grimm started by offering the store to a regional Porsche club for meetings. Within weeks, in early October 2011, a financial planning firm asked Grimm about using the space for a client appreciation evening, he says.

"I think they would have paid if we'd asked, but we said, 'Why pay?'" Grimm says. "I work from 'yes' anyway, so far be it from me to say 'no' to someone who wants to use our state-of-the-art facility to promote themselves personally or professionally. I checked the date and said, 'Let's do it.'"

Jason Grimm: Good buzz

Word of mouth


Other groups learned, mostly through word of mouth, that the dealership was available for events, Grimm says.

He spent $8,000 to $10,000 to buy 100 chairs, 15 high-top tables, 10 other tables, white and black linens and 400 to 500 wine glasses. The dealership provides use of those free to groups using its space.

Events at the dealership have included small dinners for 50 people and up to a 450-person bar mitzvah. "We'll be hosting a school fundraiser for a local high school" soon, with an estimated 500 people attending, Grimm says.

The cost to the dealership is minimal, he says.

"We have a general understanding with the person sponsoring the event that if there is a major cleanup, they do it," Grimm says. "We have a cleaning company that comes anyhow so that is no extra cost."

Saturday nights are the most popular times for events. But Grimm says he has held some during showroom business hours, with the events taking place in the closed service department.

His staff usually sets up the tables. Often the group holding the event folds the tables and stacks them when the event ends without being asked, Grimm says.

Grimm has one or two porters work the events after hours. The porters are "the eyes and ears" of the dealership to show people where the lights are, how to operate the sound system and "keep an eye on everything." They also lock up after the events, he says.

He pays staff members who work at events their regular compensation rates.

Space available
Porsche of Beachwood in suburban Cleveland 2 years ago started letting community groups hold events at the dealership for free.

Events hosted: 25
Types of events: Dinners, fundraisers, parties, fashion shows, bar mitzvahs
Materials provided: Tables, chairs, linens, wineglasses
Investment cost to dealership: $8,000 to $10,000
Dealership event staff: 2 porters
Liability: None

Liability


Grimm has six cars worth a total of about $800,000 in the showroom. He has had no damage or theft from any of the events, he says. The cars, managers' offices and the parts department are locked during events. The rest of the space is open for guests.

"I have attended a lot of the events here and people tend to stay away from the expensive stuff," Grimm says.

He assesses groups that want to hold events at the dealership and considers the timing and nature of the events before giving approval.

He says the dealership does not need a liquor license because the store sells no alcohol and that the groups holding the events assume liability for any damage or theft.

The dealership tells groups that want to use the space that "it is in their best interest and recommended that they get proper insurance coverage for their liability because at the end of the day it doesn't really come back on us," Grimm says.

If community demand to use the dealership increases, Grimm says he will buy more tables and chairs, perhaps assign one of the store's administrative assistants to coordinate and manage the events and dedicate more effort to social media to promote the store as an event venue.

"For this to work, you've got to believe it's going to work long term," Grimm says. "If you're looking for a hard seven-month return on investment to it, you probably shouldn't do it."

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com. -- Follow Jamie on Twitter


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