For the People, By the People
This week’s newsletter intro is a bit of an editorial. With our community’s 5th year in full gear, there has been a ton of reminiscing and philosophizing by our long-time community members.
Last Saturday, I had a conversation with a young couple about everything from him wanting to buy a BMW M2 to her getting a bit more philosophical. Of course, I directed him about our community sponsor, BMW of Towson. [I’m a big fan of the M2 as well.] She, on the other hand, has witnessed the community’s growth and last Saturday’s fine example of a full community gathering – with over 500 vehicles and over 1000 enthusiasts taking part – sparked some impactful words. She remarked about the mix of the young and the old – and that goes for the people and the automobiles. Then, it was the comfortable family atmosphere. Next, it was the gradual growth over the years. Finally, she said, “Will, this has grown into a legacy. It is a legacy. This has to continue.” Over the decades, enthusiast communities have come and gone. Some last. Some don’t. There are a few variables out of the organizer’s control so all the organizer can do is to respectfully build it for the people. Work at it. Work at it more. End of story.
Cars & Coffee communities have rapidly spread across the country and there will be more. For the organizers, the first question is why are they starting it? Is it to promote the automotive culture? Is it to pass forward automotive enthusiasm to the younger generations? That’s the good stuff. Is it to bring more people in front of your products? That’s where intentions can get cloudy. Surely, large businesses have had success bringing people to their location under the Cars & Coffee label. If that’s the chosen route, be up front about it. “We’re here to gather enthusiasts and show off our facility and inventory.” Announce your intent. Sadly, there are also Cars & Coffee gatherings where they’re created behind the scenes - directly by dealerships or their outside ‘marketing agents’ - at off-site locations explicitly for the purpose of bringing their products in front of potential buyers. Sadly, these organizers and dealerships don’t have automotive enthusiasm as the primary drive. It’s all about moving cars - and typically - high-end cars. This happens across the U.S. Thankfully, this sort of ‘community’ construct hasn’t seen the staying power since the businesses that cling to these disingenuous processes aren’t, themselves, built to last. Don’t use the heritage of Cars & Coffee to prop up your shady business image – even for a moment.
Channeling my inner Fight Club… Rule [insert number] of Cars & Coffee: Don’t treat your community like a captive sales audience. Participants will see right through your veiled process and flow right back toward the communities that don’t have reptilian sales teams just off your shoulder and in your ears. Cars & Coffee gatherings aren’t about a business card being placed in your hand every 10 steps or a sales pitch being cast in your ear every 5 minutes. For those organizers, if your head isn’t in the game for the right reasons, don’t get off the bench. Don’t waste the time of the automotive enthusiast community. Place your ads on TV, on social media, on the back of the newspaper and on your website…instead of on my car or in my ear. Allow the enthusiasts to enjoy the automobiles and the people.
If you’re a respected business and you’re holding an event, fantastic. Don’t go overboard with the solicitation. The foundation isn’t about loading the show area with your inventory and sales staff. The heritage of Cars & Coffee is about the people – the owners, their family and friends - and their own automobiles. It’s not about your bottom line. For the organizers, make it about ‘people pay’. Stick to how Cars & Coffee started. It’s about our new and old friendships. It’s about our extended family that we enjoy every week. It’s about paying forward our automotive enthusiasm. Cars & Coffee isn’t the place for shady salespeople. Don’t pollute the water. Don’t waste our time. Be respectful first, second and…keep going.