Market Your Own Car Show — For Fun & Profit

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The original ‘social network’ turns enthusiasts into friends and friends into customers.

“Social networking” is the big buzz in marketing today.

Facebook and Twitter are all the rage. Both may have their place in your shop promotion, but when it comes to “friending” enthusiasts (and creating new enthusiasts) nothing beats a good old-fashioned car show to cover both the social and the networking parts of marketing your restyling shop.

Actually, there’s nothing old-fashioned today about some of the new online tools available to help you market your car show. I’ll touch on those later. But first, let me clarify – this isn’t a comprehensive article about how to run a car show. This is an article about how to get the most marketing mileage out of your car show.

Holding a car show is one thing. Being able to turn it into sales is something entirely different.


The goal of a car show as shop marketing is what I’ll call “selling as a celebration” or “party as a promotion.” Pulling together a couple of cars in a dark parking lot on a Tuesday night might draw a small crowd of hardcore enthusiasts. But when you add music, food, drink, vendors, and awards, you can turn your car show into a big event that will draw big crowds, build excitement, and get you, the organizer, better recognized and remembered.

Most rewarding, all of the proceeds from the car show go directly to the Saukville Fire Department ($5,000 to $10,000 annually, depending on the weather). All the checks for the Saukville car show are written directly to the fire department.

The entry fee is a modest $5 per vehicle for the judged event, and nearly 180 trophies were awarded to participants in more than 50 categories last year. The event kicks off with a pancake breakfast at 8 a.m. and wraps up with an awards ceremony at 4 p.m.-making this a jam-packed day of music, drink, food, fun, and, of course, cars.

“In my mind, don’t have a car show to make a bunch of money for yourself,” he continues. “I do it for fun and to give back to the community. If I get anything back in business, that’s just a bonus.”

Here are some pointers on how to develop your own car show as a marketing event.

Timing is Everything

Like any event, a successful car show starts with choosing a time, date, and place. Check the local calendar to be sure your show isn’t conflicting with any other major event. Or better yet, find a popular parade or festival that draws big crowds already and try to dovetail your car show with it.

Talk to event organizers about the benefits of holding your events in cooperation. You could add some cars to their parade and put your show somewhere along the parade route. Or you could have your car show at or near their festival to draw more attendees for both of you.

I don’t know whether it started as a dance, car show, or both, but they work well together. The dance draws people to the show, the show draws people to the dance, and the kids come along for the fun.

When you are setting a date, be sure you can live with the day you pick. If you plan on this becoming an annual event and not just a one-time marketing ploy, you’ll want the event to happen about the same time every year so people will slot it into their mental calendar.  It helps that the show staff chose a memorable date and a great venue to keep people coming back. (Or more likely that the venue has chosen them.)

Start the party

A fun party starts with fun people. In much the same way, a great car show starts with having great cars.

A good way to get great cars is to start planning well in advance and get the word out in as many different ways as you can. Let your customers know you’d like them to participate when you see them or do a mailing/e-mailing to them. You also might want to call some of the nearby car clubs to ask them to participate and help you get the word out to their members.

Collect as many e-mail addresses as you can while you’re getting the word out. Mailings can be expensive; a phone campaign can be time-consuming. But an e-mail program can help you keep in touch with a lot of participants at one time for a nominal cost.

Constant Contact’s service also provides detailed reports telling you specifically who opened your e-mail, who registered and who paid their entry fee. And it will also help you to seamlessly integrate all your event communications with social media like Twitter and Facebook.

Constant Contact offers a no-strings-attached, free, 60-day trial, so you can try it before you buy it.

E-mail marketing also can help you keep in touch with attendees. Collect e-mail addresses of attendees so you can thank them for coming after the show and remind them of the show as it starts approaching next year. Don’t just send out one e-mail reminder. I suggest you start reminding them a month before the show and remind them more frequently as the show draws closer.

Publicize the event

You can never over-promote your car show. Here are just a few of the most common ways to draw attention to your event. But don’t throw away any other ideas, from billboards to radio spots, if you can get them for low or no cost


You can create posters fairly inexpensively at the local copy or print shop. Be sure your shop’s name and/or logo is clearly and predominantly located on all your marketing materials, and try to include your shop number. 

Then spend time going door to door asking others in the business community to help you promote your car show with a poster in their window, on their door, or on their events bulletin board. Be sure to hit auto parts stores and repair shops where the customers and employees may be likely participants as well attendees.

While you’re going door to door, it’s also a good time to hit business owners up for sponsorship.


Your copy or print shop can help you shrink down your poster to an 8.5″x11″ or 5.5″x8.5″ handbill that you can leave on counters of businesses and/or park districts, libraries, etc. This is where working with a non-profit can come in handy.

While a library might not allow car show flyers for a local business, they may allow you to promote an event benefiting a non-profit.

Also, be sure to give copies of your modern flyer and a PDF to the non-profit you’re working with. They might mail or e-mail flyers to their local constituency and donors to raise awareness of your event.


Again, your printer or copy shop can help with this. If you create a one-sided 8.5″x11″ flyer, you can tri-fold it down and label it with prospective participants’ names and mail it out.

Or write a personal letter to prospective sponsors, vendors, or restaurants that might be interested in participating in a financial way. You can also mail your packet to national sponsors looking for door prizes or sponsorship dollars.


An ad in the local newspaper can be relatively inexpensive. You might be able to swing free advertising by giving the newspaper a free sponsorship in return. This is an especially good approach if you’ve decided to make this a charitable event.


Start putting up banners around town and in nearby towns announcing your car show along with the date, time, and place a month or so before the show. Ask your sponsors to put up a banner for you at their business.

Also, be sure you have as many banners as you can at the event with all the sponsors’ names on them. Branding is the reward for their sponsorship.

Enjoy the show

Once the hard work of promoting your event is done, it’s time to enjoy all the fruits of your work. While you will most likely spend the lion’s share of your time checking in registrants, resolving problems, tabulating ballots, and managing the awards, you should also make time to actually walk the show.

This is your opportunity to spend facetime with customers and prospective customers and build rapport with them. Compliment folks on their cars. Ask someone to consider judging at your show next year. Invite folks to stop by your shop anytime to see what you’re working on. Just be friendly and enjoy yourself. Remember, this isn’t about hard-selling – it’s about making it fun and keeping it light.

Then, following up after the car show can help assure that you’ll have a well-attended show for years to come.

During the show, it’s a good idea to ask one or two people to take photos for you. Once you get the photos back, pick out the highlights and make some prints for participants. Or better yet, post them online with a photo-sharing service like Snapfish, Flickr, or Shutterfly. 

Once you post the photos online, send out an e-mail to participants and attendees with a link to the photo gallery. 

Don’t forget to thank everyone who helped and participated. Constant Contact’s Event Marketing program offers a high-tech approach to thanking everyone. But, especially for folks who have gone above and beyond the call of duty, I think a handwritten thank you note is much more meaningful. (When was the last time you got a hand-written thank you?) Again, the goal here is to build relationships.

Once you’ve posted your photos, thanked everyone, and have feedback on what worked and what didn’t, stop and relish the moment. Don’t let negative comments get you down. There’s always room for improvement.

For now, focus on what went right. Take a day or two to enjoy your achievement. But don’t relax too long. It’s already time to start planning next year’s show!

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