Porsche of Beachwood, a Penske Automotive Group store outside of Cleveland, has come up with a new way of marketing the dealership and brand. The dealer makes its facilities available for free to groups and families putting on catered events. So far they have hosted about 25 affairs: bar mitzvah parties, runway fashion shows, fundraisers, dinners and after-parties. “We have not done a wedding reception yet, but I imagine it’s just a matter of time,” says Jason Grimm, the dealership’s general manager.
Beachwood is an affluent suburb and Grimm wanted the dealership to stand out in a place where expensive cars are not unusual. About two years ago he invested about $8,000 to $10,000 on 100 chairs, 25 tables, linens and 400 to 500 wine glasses and started spreading the word that Porsche of Beachwood was available, for free, as a venue for events. So far they have hosted events as intimate as a 50 person dinner and as large as 450 people attending a bar mitzvah party. I’m sure that Adolf Rosenberger, a successful racer and businessman who, with Ferdinand Porsche and Dr. Anton Piëch, founded Porsche GmbH in 1931, would approve.
“We’ll be hosting a school fundraiser for a local high school” soon, with an estimated 500 people attending, Grimm said. The ongoing cost is minimal, paying a couple of the dealers’ porters to set up and knock down the dining facilities.
Grimm says the return on the investment in terms of good will and potential future customers is priceless, though they have sold some cars directly due to the program. “We have sold a handful of cars, probably three or four, directly from events,” Grimm says. “Now, how many more do you sell from people who say, ‘Hey, I was at this event one time’ or ‘I heard of an event my friend held there?’ Showroom drivers are what we’re looking for” he says. “What better way to do that than create a communal buzz on how beautiful the store is and how welcoming the staff was.”
Grimm got the idea at the Porsche dealership’s grand opening, then it germinated and sort of took off on its own. The grand opening was a spectacle with more than 650 people attending. They had professional lighting and catering and it generated a lot of buzz in local social media. Grimm realized “this place could really be a cool venue.”
He started by making the facility available to a regional Porsche club for their meetings. Within weeks he got an inquiry from a financial planning firm looking for a venue for a client appreciation event. “I think they would have paid if we’d asked, but we said, ‘Why pay?’” Grimm says. “I work from ‘yes’ anyway, so far be it from me to say ‘no’ to someone who wants to use our state-of-the-art facility to promote themselves personally or professionally. I checked the date and said, ‘Let’s do it.’” Word of mouth then spread the news of a cool new place to hold events in Beachwood.
So far there have been no problems and no damage to any of the pricey Porsches on the showroom floor and in the repair bays. “I have attended a lot of the events here and people tend to stay away from the expensive stuff,” Grimm says. The six cars that are usually on the showroom floor are worth about $800,000 total. They’re locked, as are all the offices, but other than that, guests have the run of the place.
“We have a general understanding with the person sponsoring the event that if there is a major cleanup, they do it,” Grimm says. “We have a cleaning company that comes anyhow so that is no extra cost.”
Events are usually after normal business hours but they have hosted events in the service department when it has been closed while the showroom continued to operate.
The porters who help set up also keep an eye on things during the events. They are “the eyes and ears” of the dealership, show event operators how to use the lights and the sound system, “keep an eye on everything,” and then lock up afterwards.
Grimm does screen the groups and the type of event before giving approval. No liquor or catering licenses are needed because the dealer itself sells no food or alcohol. The groups holding the events assume liability for any damage or theft. The groups are told that “it is in their best interest and recommended that they get proper insurance coverage for their liability because at the end of the day it doesn’t really come back on us,” Grimm says.
If demand for the venue increases, Grimm says that he’ll buy more tables and chairs and possibly assign a store employee to coordinate and manage the events as well as promotion of the venue.
“For this to work, you’ve got to believe it’s going to work long term,” Grimm says. “If you’re looking for a hard seven-month return on investment to it, you probably shouldn’t do it.”
This is a great marketing idea. Grimm has latched onto something here and I can see other car dealers selling high priced cars duplicating the program, though to be honest, I’m skeptical that any Ferrari dealer is ever going to give away any kind of service for free.
Though it’s an unusual thing for a car dealer to host catered events, it’s not at all unusual for a car museum. The GM Heritage Center outside of Detroit can be rented for some corporate events and while Porsche of Beachwood hasn’t yet hosted a wedding, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana is available for weddings and other events for as little as $300.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS