Dealership Sings Blues

A 75-year old dealership on the outskirts of Detroit called upon the city's finest blues bands to help serenade sales during an annual car cruise. They drew 2,000 people to the used-car lot and helped raise money for the Rotary Club. Blues music doesn't have a color or a city line, says Dennis Valentine, general manager of Merollis Chevrolet in Eastpointe, MI. We welcomed people from all over Detroit

A 75-year old dealership on the outskirts of Detroit called upon the city's finest blues bands to help serenade sales during an annual car cruise. They drew 2,000 people to the used-car lot and helped raise money for the Rotary Club.

“Blues music doesn't have a color or a city line,” says Dennis Valentine, general manager of Merollis Chevrolet in Eastpointe, MI. “We welcomed people from all over Detroit and the suburbs.”

The concert — dubbed the Blues Cruise — occurred Friday and Saturday evenings during an annual June Gratiot Avenue Cruise, a two-mile parade of classic Chevrolets, Fords and Chryslers along the eight-mile roadway. The Eastpointe Rotary budgeted $22,000 to purchase a tent, extra security and a lineup of 10 bands.

Outside the dealership, the crew changed its display vehicles every two hours, from SSR's to Avalanches to shiny red Corvettes. Members of the Street Lethal Performance Club parked their vintage Camaros on the lot.

Traffic moved at a snail's pace so the vehicles had maximum exposure, according to Valentine. “If I was to do one thing differently I'd start the live music earlier on Saturday,” he says. Crowd counts were highest when the bands played.

Serenading sales is nothing new, according to Skip Harkness, director of the National Automobile Dealers Assn.'s 20 Group. He recalls one Midwest dealership that has bluegrass musicians perform for prizes in the showroom. A dealership in Montana once hosted a battle of the bands for rock performers.

“Give people many more reasons to come out shopping for a car. Once one dealership does it, the idea is there forever, Harkness said. No dealer to his knowledge has hosted a blues concert, another idea to add to brainstorming sessions.

The Rotarians approached Merollis Chevrolet, asking to use its used-car lot on cruise weekend. They sought a visible beacon to the south end of town where business is more marginal. Another dealership, Drummy Oldsmobile, went out of business in 2002, leaving its empty carcass behind. The club hopes to raise money for a public swimming pool nearby.

Merollis, owned by minority dealer Bill Perkins, generates $55 million in annual sales by retailing 2,200 new and used trucks. It has 15 salespeople. None of the current sales crew rivals its legendary 1960s super-salesman, Joe Girard.

The affable Girard, made the Guinness Book of World Records 12 times for achieving the highest vehicle sales tally in the world. Between 1963-77, he rose to an all-time record of 1,425 cars a year, an average of six new vehicles a day‥

Today, the dealership cultivates sales through charity networking such as the blues concert, exceptional customer service and blanket advertising on cable television.

What does Valentine plan to do differently if he hosts another blues concert?

“We'll double our advertising budget when we do this concert again. I can guarantee we'll repeat it because we had lots of interest in our vehicles,” he says.

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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