As a rule, Porsche buyers have a need for speed.
Hoffman Porsche of East Hartford, Conn., has started indulging that need by offering its most loyal customers a free excursion to the local racetrack. Though renting the track for the afternoon isn't cheap, the dealership says it pays for itself by fostering repeat sales and cultivating customers who don't want to buy sports cars anywhere else.
"Racing is a big part of the Porsche heritage, and we find that a good share of our customers have a love affair with racing," said Christan Miller, director of marketing and communications at Hoffman Auto Group. "This allows them to partake of it."
For the first event last year, Hoffman Porsche gathered about 30 loyal customers selected by the dealership's four-person sales staff. They met at the dealership that morning, had breakfast and drove their Porsches in a convoy to Lime Rock Drivers Club, a racetrack about 50 miles west in Lakeville, Conn.
While there, the customers were able to push their own cars to the limit -- or run hot laps in a Porsche that might be their next, Miller said. For repeat Porsche buyers, the excursion offers a better chance to put a new model through its paces before a purchase.
"It's not like they're going to be sitting down and having a steak dinner," Miller said. "We want them to be able to smell the burnt rubber and see the sight of Porsches racing around the track at speeds they're not really accustomed to."
Hoffman Porsche is reprising the event in late June. The store has sent out save-the-dates to its VIPs, many of whom took part in last year's track day.
The store sells an average of 18 new and 10 used vehicles per month. It turned last year's event into three sales, Miller said. That was an immediate return on investment for an event that costs about $25,000, he said -- "not including the cost of all the tires that we need to replace."
But it was also an investment in the future, rewarding longtime customers and encouraging them to come back to Hoffman Porsche. Visitors get schwag as well. Last year, it was free jackets. This year, they will get free duffel bags.
Hoffman Auto Group, a family-owned retail group now run by a third generation of Hoffmans, has 10 new-car dealerships selling Lexus, Audi, Porsche, Lincoln, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford and Scion vehicles. It relies heavily on promotional events for all of its brands, sponsoring and throwing about 100 of them per year.
Lime Rock is used to hosting this type of group, Lime Rock Drivers Club director Simon Kirkby said. The track splits Hoffman's customers into three groups: no experience, some experience and very experienced.
The track takes precautions. Hoffman suggests customers buy track insurance if they're driving their own cars. The dealership covers insurance for the cars it brings. Drivers aren't allowed to pass without getting a hand signal, Kirkby says, and timed laps are frowned upon.
But good luck stopping Porsche drivers from seeing what their cars can do.
"We don't encourage timing laps because that can lead to overcompetitiveness and potentially an accident," Kirkby said. "But the reality is, these guys -- particularly the experienced guys -- are timing themselves. There's nothing you can do to stop that."