Major car companies, including Ford and Chevy, are starting to look seriously at the old-car niche as a plus-business market. Both automakers had large exhibits at the recently held Iola Car Show, although they were not the only Bigs at the event.
Miller Electric came from nearby Appleton, Wisconsin to demonstrate its welders, plasma cutters and welding gear. Classic tire maker Coker Tire of Chattanooga, Tennessee, was also an exhibitor. Toys For Trucks-”a large Wisconsin retailer with seven locations in the state-”also promoted its truck and Jeep parts and services.
Iola is one of the top old-car shows in the country. It is a community-run event that has raised millions of dollars for the small village of Iola. The show has a full-time, year-round staff of 10 people, plus hundreds of volunteers from local community service groups and charities that share in the profits.
Not long ago, the focus of the Iola Car Show was on antique cars and parts for those cars. However, one of Wisconsin’s biggest industries is tourism and automakers including Chevy, Ford, Buick, Olds, Pontiac, Chrysler and Dodge have found that car shows attract many people who don’t collect old cars and trucks, but drive new ones instead. Over 100,000 people annually visit the Iola show.
Joe Opperman, the car show’s PR and marketing director, does much of the legwork involved when big companies decide to participate in the event. For example, Opperman helped the owners of Vintage Works of Green Bay, with their plan to have cable TV stars Ryan Evans and Mike Henry signing autographs at their booth.
Iola is not the only classic car show that is attracting major companies, but it is definitely reflective of a trend. These days, more and more big companies are using the collector car hobby as a springboard to reach consumers with a passion for automobiles.