Cathy Anderson says she wants to make sure her pursuit of profits is balanced with her passion for philanthropy.
So the dealer principal of Woody Anderson Ford in Huntsville, Ala., created "Drive for Excellence" in December 2004.
The program gives local high school juniors and seniors the chance to win laptop computers and a new car by getting good grades and attending school every day.
The first grand drawing was held in June amid balloons and banana splits. The program generated entries from about 600 students. It also made Paul Haughton, then a senior at Huntsville High School, the proud owner of a 2005 red Ford Mustang valued at $21,280.
Anderson says the program generated buzz and increased dealership traffic and sales. It also rewarded young people for doing well in school.
Although Anderson says she is not overtly pursuing teenage buyers, she hopes to create goodwill that will lead them and their parents back to the dealership when they are ready to purchase a vehicle.
"We're going to do this every year," says Anderson, who took over the reins of the family dealership after her husband died two years ago.
"It rewards the youngsters for being committed to excellence and individual growth. We've been taught that if you work hard, get good grades and stay to school, you'll do well. This provides an incentive."
Mustang markets itself
Anderson has earmarked a 2006 red Mustang as the grand prize to be given away next June. The dealership is working with the schools to develop a travel schedule for the car for the 2005-06 school year.
The plan is to park it at local schools during sporting and special events.
Last school year's grand prize was shown off in Huntsville's Christmas and St. Patrick's Day parades. A video of the winner starting his car for the first time was fashioned into a TV commercial touting the dealership and the contest. The commercial is being broadcast in Huntsville.
Three Dell laptops, valued at $1,000 each, were given away as part of the first promotion.
The second annual "Drive for Excellence" starts Oct. 21. This school year, four computers will be given away, one for each quarterly grading period. The first drawing for the computer is to be on Nov. 21.
The program works like this:
High school juniors and seniors can take their report cards to the dealership after each grading period. Students are given entries based on how many A's and B's they receive. A's are worth three entries; B's are worth one.
To encourage students who try hard but don't earn top grades, perfect attendance is good for one entry.
The entries are placed in a brass drum in the dealership by the students.
About a month after the end of each grading period, the dealership holds a drawing for a laptop. The teacher whose homeroom has the most entries for the given quarter wins $500 for classroom projects. The school that the car winner attends will win $2,000 at the end of the promotion.
Reaching with radio
Local country music radio station WDRM-FM has partnered with Anderson to do live remote shows at the dealership during the drawings.
The events are covered by local media, including high school newspapers. The dealership has obtained a servicemark on the "Drive for Excellence" phrase.
The students provide their names, addresses and e-mail addresses to the dealership. This enables the dealership to print entries quickly and allows it to compile a database of future buyers.
The first event attracted so many entries - some students earned more than 40 - that the dealership held a special drawing during which 20 students were randomly selected.
The dealership contacted the schools those students attended to verify that the grades were correct. It also gave the dealership the opportunity to explain the contest rules to the parents of the finalists.
For example, although the car was free, the winner would be responsible for paying taxes on it. Also, if the winner was under 18, the car would have to be registered to a parent or guardian.
Dealer Cathy Anderson has no plans to end Woody Anderson Ford's "Drive for Excellence" program. Says Anderson: "We're going to do this every year."
Anderson says it is hard to quantify how many sales resulted from the program, but she believes it enhanced sales and community goodwill.
Anderson says the program has attracted so much attention that she might hold the June 2006 event at the local civic center to accommodate the crowd.
"We'll have to buy a lot more ice cream, a lot more chocolate syrup and lot more bananas for the banana splits," she says.
More traffic and sales
Bobby White, the dealership's general manager, says floor traffic increased 30 to 35 percent as the event progressed and more people learned about it. Many customers who bought cars and trucks during and after the event mentioned the car giveaway, he adds.
White says the dealership is on track to sell about 2,200 new and 2,000 used vehicles in 2005. That's up from 1,890 new and 1,700 used in 2004.
To measure how well the event is working, the dealership says it will ask its customers this month whether they have heard of the giveaway program.
Before implementing the program, Anderson says she contacted her local city, county and state school superintendents and representatives of parochial schools to get their input and feedback.
"We didn't want to give incentives for the wrong things," she says. "We were careful not to exploit the schools."
Haughton, now 18, says he entered the contest "for the heck of it" and didn't think he had a chance of winning the car.
"It's good motivation to help you keep your grades up," says Haughton, now a pre-med student at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., who wants to be an orthopedic surgeon.
And, he adds, "It's a cool ride."