Last fall, Friendship Family of Dealerships received a phone call similar to ones that most dealerships receive.
The man on the line was a fundraiser for a local foster-care program. He asked Friendship to donate two bikes through its Bikes For Kids program, in which dealership employees recondition donated bikes or help buy new ones to give to kids who need them, said Pamela Ragan, Friendship's human resources manager. After Mitch Walters, president of the Bristol, Tenn., dealership group, learned that 100 children were in the program, he bought a bike for every child.
"I could tell you a hundred experiences just like this one in my almost 14 years here," Ragan said.
Friendship's story is just one example of dealerships helping members of their community. Many dealerships are passionate about and take pride in the work they do for their local communities.
But do their customers notice?
An Automotive News-DealerRater survey of more than 11,000 customers who had recently visited a dealership for sales or service showed that most were unaware of their dealership's community involvement. Among those who were aware of the dealership's community actions, the majority said their decisions on vehicle purchases or service were not influenced by those actions. The survey was fielded from June 22-29.
More than half of the respondents, 56 percent, said they were not aware of their dealership's community involvement. More than a third, 38 percent, of respondents said they knew their dealership contributed to the community to some extent, but it did not influence their decision to choose that dealership. That includes 8 percent who said they were aware that the dealership supported groups or causes "that are important to me."
Only 6 percent said they chose their dealership because of its community involvement.
"I don't think dealers brag about it a whole lot," said Walters. But customers being unaware or uninfluenced by dealerships' outreach "kind of hurts our feelings," he said.
Apple Chevrolet in Tinley Park, Ill., raises money for the United Service Organizations and sponsors cancer walks and youth sports teams. Nonetheless, dealer principal John Alfirevich isn't surprised most consumers are in the dark.
"People are not paying attention. That figure, in my eyes, could have been higher," he said. "They are concerned about the fairness of their deal. There's no question about it."