Chryslerdom's “Premiere Night” events is one of those dealer-funded factory programs that come along every now and then. They are labeled “voluntary” but it's politically unwise for dealers to turn them down.
Because the events are voluntary, factory reps have to sell dealers on signing up. But, because they're usually expensive and described in factory-speak rather than dealer-speak, most dealers duck the opportunity until they're cornered into buying in.
The Premiere Nights concept takes its cues from Hollywood whereby Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealerships across the country hold a series of festive premieres similar to those held for movie debuts.
The brand-specific events are intended to give the public a “sneak preview” of new products. Dealerships throughout the U.S. are hosting the events to showcase nine new vehicles from the biggest product offense in the Chrysler Group's history.
The events are designed “to look and feel like a Hollywood premiere with the vehicles serving as the ‘stars,’” says Gary Dilts, Chrysler Group's senior vice president of sales.
More than 4 million existing and potential customers received invites to the events at more than 2,100 participating dealerships, representing 90% of total Chrysler brand sales volume. The dealerships are dressed up for the occasion. So is the personnel.
In truth, many factory programs don't work. Of course, most dealer programs don't work either, but, we aren't nearly as sensitive to that because for our failures we have no one but ourselves to blame.
As for Premiere Night, I was one of those dealers who bludgeoned my rep with just how stupid this idea was. I was relentless. “Who came up with this turkey?” “Who's idiot nephew is cashing in a chip by force selling this to dealers?”
I was not kind in the slightest.
After all, who in their right mind would have supported a midweek party at a car dealership where the only inducement was an invitation promising a peek at some new cars and, “oh yeah” a gift medallion? Imagine, new cars at a new-car dealership. How unique. And an invitation! Silly me, I thought car dealerships were open to the public. It never occurred to me that you needed an engraved invitation to get in.
But enough sarcasm, because, what occurred was spectacular. I mean that with nothing more than an invitation and the offer of a medallion, more than 200 customers showed up in my showrooms to see the newest Chrysler products.
Not only that, a bunch of them bought our products. A bunch more scheduled appointments to come back later. As importantly, our staff were drawn in, invigorated and integrated into the program. They spiffed up their product knowledge and their wardrobes just to be prepared for Premiere Night.
Go figure. The program was “a good one” proving wrong the adage that factory folk don't know retail with just a friendly invite and a simple trinket. All it took was a friendly meet and greet party and a few pastries which goes to show that this business isn't always as hard as we think it is.
Which brings me to this months rant. Does every pocket knife have to be a Swiss army survival tool kit? If nothing else the folks at DaimlerChrysler proved it does not.
Let's hope that they continue along this path of simplicity with easier to implement, less expensive programs explained with more direct communications tools. And perhaps they can eliminate some of the documentation requirements that so often slow us down and eliminate some of those day-long meetings they're so fond of.
Who knows, maybe the most important breakthrough this year will be factory-dealer relations.
Peter Brandow is a Pennsylvania and New Jersey dealer.