Better Business: The Benefits of Hosting Car Shows

Jul 30, 2010

Hi Class Customs hosts events to thank current customers, as well as attract new business.

The day before Chop-Shop Customs in Woburn, Massachusetts, was supposed to host its third annual open house, it started raining.

“We never expected the torrential downpour we had on that day, and it was a really tough decision to make [whether or not to cancel the show] because we had to make a decision the night before,” said Dana Schaeffer, who co-owns the shop with her husband Lenny.

The Schaeffers posted news about the postponement on Chop-Shop Customs’ website, Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as on the various message boards they’d used to promote the open house. They also fielded calls from customers wondering if the show would go on. Despite the heavy rainfall on the original Saturday date, a few people still showed up, according to Schaeffer.

The open house was originally scheduled for May 8, the day before Mother’s Day, and was rescheduled for June 19, the day before Father’s Day. As evidenced by the photo slideshow on the shop’s website, the weather cooperated the second time around.

Chop-Shop Customs’ open house gives people the chance to show off their cars and tour the shop to see its latest projects. Other shops host car shows and events for those same reasons, while some take the opportunity to thank their customers or give back to their communities. Despite their motivation, all shops can get more business by hosting car shows and events.

Showing Off

When The Hot Rod Barn in Morris, Illinois, grew from 9,000 square feet to 22,000 square feet, Bernie Myers, the shop’s owner, decided to celebrate by hosting an open house.

“After we put up the new big addition with all the other services we do, we decided to have an open house and a car show just to show off our new facility and the new equipment and things like that,” Myers said of the event, which has been held on the third week of September for the past three years.

During the open house, nearly 1,000 people explore The Hot Rod Barn’s 4-acre facility, checking out the engine shop, upholstery shop, paint and body shop, and speed shop, plus watch a chassis dyno demonstration and see all of The Hot Rod Barn’s current projects. There’s also a DJ, food, raffles and giveaways.

The open house also includes a car show where 13 vehicles are chosen to be included in The Hot Rod Barn’s calendar, which the shop has been producing since hosting its first show. A local car club handles the judging.

Myers promotes the open house in Gearhead News, a publication that covers hot rod shops and events in the Chicagoland and Midwest regions. He also passes out fliers at local car shows and cruise nights.

Three years in, past attendees still call each summer to confirm that the show will be happening.

“Hopefully at some point we’ll back off on the advertising a little bit and rely on the word-of-mouth aspect or the repeat customers,” Myers said.

The Hot Rod Barn’s open house also attracts people in town for Corn Fest, an annual festival held each September in Morris.

“We advertise in their flier that there’s a show that day, so we actually see a lot of people walk around with their Corn Fest buttons, so we know that works,” Myers said. “We’re able to attract a lot of people from the downtown area to come out to our shop.”

Whether they’ve come from Corn Fest, Gearhead News or were brought by a friend, open house attendees have become The Hot Rod Barn’s customers.

“We might not see something in the next month or so, but we get a lot of people that come by six months later, eight months later and say, ‘I was at your show, I had a good time, I’d like to do this update on my car,'” Myers said. “I think just the repetitiveness of being consistent with the show at the same time every year, people seem to remember that.”

In Appreciation

Edward Brumfield originally started throwing a free barbecue and cruise-in at his New Orleans-based Hi Class Customs two years ago as a way of thanking his best customers. The gathering, which Brumfield hosts three times a year, has since grown to attract nearly 500 customers, business associates and car enthusiasts, in addition to 100 cars and motorcycles.

“I used to just call the best customers but everybody couldn’t show and we would have a lot of food,” said Brumfield, who grills up hot dogs, pork chops and other favorites. “Then the next barbecue, we cut back on the food and then we didn’t have enough to go around, so what I did was I said, ‘We’ll go gung-ho with it, we’ll call everybody in our contact list.'”

Brumfield also gives invites to attendees at other area car shows and employees from the local car dealerships he works with so they can learn first-hand what Hi Class Customs is all about.

“I’m just trying to find ways to get customers into the shop to see what we’re doing versus going on the website,” he said. “The website is cool, it attracts people to see our work, but there’s nothing like coming into the actual facility to see the work [first] hand.”

Some of the people who come down to see the shop are interested in working there.

“The barbecues really generate a lot of people coming in, so if I’m short on workers at the time, I can also get workers,” Brumfield said. “Guys looking for work come to [the] barbecues and car shows, so it’s the best place to find workers.”

Hi Class Customs’ three 2010 barbecues were scheduled for July 18, Aug. 22 and Sept. 17. No judging happens at the barbecues, but Brumfield does give a plaque of participation to anyone who attends all three barbecues. The events have helped Hi Class Customs grow its e-mail list and gain new business.

“If I can get one customer out of the barbecue, it’s paying for itself,” he said. “The whole purpose of it is just to touch one heart, if we can touch one heart with the barbecue, we’ve done our job, and most of the time we touch a lot more than one.”

Giving Back

Eleven years ago, Perry R. Plischke, owner of Court Street Automotive, decided to host a car show the first Saturday in August in Weiser, Idaho, in part because a local car show had recently been cancelled.

“That’s usually when Hot August Nights are in Reno and there’s also a run in Yellowstone, and a lot of the people around here didn’t want to go to the big runs so we offered as smaller, kind of laid-back affair as an alternative to that,” Plischke said. “It’s in the city park, in the shade, in the grass and people like that a lot.”

The Court Street Cruise has raised money for local organizations from the start, an estimated $12,000, according to Plischke. Last year, Plischke and his co-organizers, which include his wife, son and daughter-in-law, decided the cruise would benefit a permanent automotive memorabilia exhibit being created at the Snake River Heritage Center.

“We’ve got a local museum up here in the buildings that used to be the high school for Weiser, and my class was the last one that graduated out of the old high school, so it kind of hit a spot with most of us,” Plischke said.

“We’ve talked to the museum and we’ve got a room we’re turning into an automobile memorabilia area, and so we’ve decided all of our money is going to that.”

The cruise attracts as many as 130 cars that compete for trophies in Rodders’ Choice, which is selected by attendees, Cruisers’ Choice, which is selected by Court Street Automotive, and Best of the Rest, which goes to the next seven or eight cars that received the most attendee votes.

Breakfast and lunch are served by the local Catholic men’s group, a DJ plays oldies music throughout the day, vendors demonstrate and sell products, and drawings are held throughout the day.

Attendees can also take part in a walking poker run, truck push, slot car drag race, key toss and classic car parts identification contest to win prizes Plischke gets donated by his vendors.

“I’ll usually call my [vendors] about the first part of May and get it in their mind, and then I’ll send them a flier, too,” he said. “I’ll usually take the time and go get the [donated] stuff and touch base with them and thank them profusely. Usually we’ll give them a dash plaque after it’s over with. Some of them have 10 years worth of dash plaques on their walls, which is really kind of a cool advertisement, too.”

The Court Street Cruise is advertised in the United Street Rods of Idaho’s publication, the local newspaper and websites including Drive Online. Court Street Automotive distributes fliers for the cruise at local car shows. The push attracts people from throughout the state to both the cruise and the shop.

“I get a lot of street rodders that come over here from as far away as Boise [about 60 miles], so it gets our name out and about,” Plischke said. “For what we invest, and we probably spend about $500, we get that back ten-fold just in name recognition and the business that comes back to us.”