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Ben Burton

AGE:33
POSITION:General sales manager, Kia of Meridian, Meridian, Miss.
ACHIEVEMENT: Revitalized Kia in the market using promotions such as local concert sponsorships and electronics giveaways

Kia was an afterthought at Johnson Dodge-Kia for years, tucked away in a corner, said Ben Burton, general sales manager for what is now Kia of Meridian in Meridian, Miss.

"They would sell a Kia only if they were made to, to be honest," he said. "For 17 years it was at the back corner of the lot." He said Kia sales at Johnson Dodge-Kia averaged around 60 new vehicles -- that is, 60 per year.

That changed in late 2013, when Kia of Meridian got its own, separate location. In 2014 new-vehicle sales totaled more than 650, and in 2015 more than 800, Burton said. He moved from Rome, Ga., to join the new store.

What else changed? "The biggest thing is community involvement. We sponsor a lot of stuff around town," Burton said. "We've probably done 10 concerts."

The dealership has sponsored or co-sponsored several events at the Temple Theatre for the Performing Arts, a regional landmark in Meridian. Originally built for the local Shriners, the Temple Theatre is a restored, 1920s vaudeville and movie palace, nicknamed the "Showplace of the South," according to its website.

For example, the dealership and Budweiser co-sponsored a performance by country musician Jo Dee Messina scheduled for June 18. Tickets were available at the dealership for $15, vs. a starting price of $25 on Ticketmaster.com.

Burton said the dealership has sponsored many types of music, as well as comedy performances and local appearances by pro athletes.

"We put the brand out there. Brand awareness was the thing about it. We've gotten everybody aware of who we are," Burton said.

He said Kia of Meridian also started a relationship with a local big-box electronics retailer as a source for TVs and other electronics as premiums. In May, the Kia store had a promotion in which customers could get a big-screen TV with the purchase of a new Kia.

"About 80 percent of our sales, we give away TVs, electronics -- people really love it," Burton said. "This market was asleep at the wheel."

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