Destination dealership: Events pay off
Events pay off at destination dealership
It's a 100-mile drive from the rural burg of Sussex, N.J., to the popular beaches along the Atlantic shore. But in July and August, residents of the rural town can tap in to their inner beach bum and enjoy a free barbecue — no long drive required — at Franklin Sussex Auto Mall's annual Beach Party Savings Bash.
The event, which features a sand beach in front of the dealership, is one of many themed promotional events developed by Bill Snouffer, general manager. His goal: Differentiate the dealership from competitors, bolster brand recognition and establish the dealership as a destination.
"Originally, we developed these events to promote sales," Snouffer said. "But as they became more like community events, we changed the premise to bringing recognition to the dealership — more branding than anything else."
Snouffer aims to make the car-buying experience entertaining and create a reputation for the dealership as a good place to do business.
The promotions spur sales increases at the store, which sells Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram vehicles. It's one of six stores operated in New Jersey by Nielsen Automotive Group and owned by Eric Nielsen. The six stores together sell about 750 new and 250 used vehicles per month.
The Franklin Sussex store, which sells about 200 new and used vehicles a month, sold 260 vehicles last August during the beach bash, said Snouffer, who has been with the Nielsen group for 40 years and also manages the other five stores. That was a 30 percent increase over a typical month.
"July and August usually are our two best months," he said.
The themed events started about 20 years ago, and all six stores hold them. The Sussex store is ground zero for Snouffer's creativity. The Safari of Savings was held annually for around 10 years through 2015 but ended over concerns it could "jeopardize the condition" of a remodeled showroom. That monthlong event featured animals — including bobcats and kangaroos — in the showroom and camel rides outside.
A Wheel of Savings event held throughout the year uses a 12-foot-diameter spinning wheel modeled after the game show "Wheel of Fortune." Customers who buy a car give the wheel a whirl for prizes, from $100 restaurant gift cards to big-screen televisions. The wheel breaks down for transport to the group's other stores.
The dealership also holds a big Halloween party, with a costume contest in which the top prize is an all-expenses-paid trip for four to Universal Studios. It hosts a March Madness basketball event that features a wood basketball court on the showroom floor. Vehicle buyers can shoot free throws for prizes. March visitors to the dealership also can register for a chance to shoot a free throw to win a vehicle.
For sheer longevity, it's tough to top the two-month beach bash, which transforms the property in front of the dealership into a sand beach, 60 feet long and 15 feet wide, replete with palm trees and beach chairs.
"We're one of the farthest car dealerships from the Jersey shore, so we decided to bring the shore to the people in Sussex," Snouffer said. "Sometimes customers that wait for their cars during service will take off their shoes and spend some time in the sand or enjoy a burger while waiting for financing. It keeps kids entertained, too."
When the event concludes, the store donates the sand to businesses, golf courses or volleyball courts. It's not easy to remove, but the dealership has its own Bobcat to speed things up.
The event features free cookouts on Fridays and Saturdays, which have become so popular that "half the town" shows up to enjoy burgers, hot dogs, snacks and beverages, he said. (Sussex's population is about 2,000 people.) Everyone who buys a vehicle receives a free 60-quart Coleman cooler.
Sales and front-of-store staffers can wear shorts during the event, and they must wear company-issued Hawaiian shirts on Saturdays and Mondays.
Splashy themed sales events at Franklin Sussex Auto Mall draw in customers and make the New Jersey dealership a fun car-buying destination.
The beach bash costs the dealership about $15,000. And while he declined to provide exact numbers, Snouffer said the group spends tens of thousands of dollars a year on the special events at all stores. He works closely with a radio station to promote the events, both paying for ads and receiving free on-air mentions.
Some events have gone a bit sideways. A beach party at another store drew the ire of town officials. "We had to take up all the sand within a week after we put it down," Snouffer said. A monster truck event once attracted several thousand people to the auto mall, causing severe traffic congestion. "We weren't allowed to do that one again," he said.
Another time, Snouffer hung a pickup from a crane about 150 feet in the air, near the major highway by the dealership. "The town didn't like that, either, so we had to get rid of it," he said.
The takeaway from those incidents? Check local rules and regulations and consult with officials before big events, Snouffer said.
Minor missteps aside, the promotions have effectively branded the rural dealership as a regional destination.
"We've created a lot of consideration from consumers in the marketplace because so many of our events are community-based," Snouffer said.
Next up? A free concert scheduled for September at Nielsen Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram in East Hanover, N.J., featuring Ace Frehley, lead guitarist for the rock band Kiss. "And yes," Snouffer said, "we do have the required permit."
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