Car Clubs and Dealers

The Culture of Car Clubs

Over many years I have belonged to several car clubs. This includes Corvette, Chrysler, early Ford and now Lincoln Continentals. Each club has its own personality and a variation of how a local dealership responds to the presence of a club devoted to their brand. A dealership exists to sell new and used cars for a profit; therefore, they probably look at a car club as a possible lead to boost sales. Dealerships sometimes provide meeting rooms for a club and occasionally, there will be a car show at the dealership. However, financial support can be hard to come by. Dealership dollars are tied up in full page newspaper ads and TV commercials. There seems to be minimal available for support of a car club, which is merely involved with old cars that are no longer available for sale.

The Club Matches the Car

Now comes my experience with the Lincoln Continental Owners Club (LCOC) in Denver.

To understand the club, you must first understand the car. The Lincoln Continental is not a mainline car like tri five Chevies or Ford Mustangs. The Continental was built in limited numbers and has always been a high dollar car. This means that a very limited number are sold. Up until the latest model, they have always been big boats that float down the highway like barges on a river. Historically that is what the Continental buyer wanted: a big, comfortable interior coupled to a very soft ride. Going to Kansas City from Denver on I-70? Then a Lincoln is your ride. You would arrive in comfort in a timely manner without a sore back. And no need to leave your belongings behind, as it’s easy to travel with a big trunk full of stuff. When I was in business, I liked to rent the Continental Town Car. With its huge trunk, I could treat it like a pickup, and since it also had a nice ride, I could do long distance travel with ease.

Restoration Romance

My personal restoration effort has been a 1940 Lincoln Zephyr Continental that is the patriarch of the line. It has a flathead V12 engine and a three speed transmission with a manual clutch. I find it tiring to drive because with a bum leg the shifting of gears while depressing a rather stiff clutch is a two Tylenol affair after just a few miles in the city. Why do I do it? The answer is simple: It has a beautiful style that few, if any, cars can match. I may get tired driving it, but I never get tired of looking at it. It is the Venus de Milo of cars. The models that followed the original design vary in curb appeal and performance. None of them can compete with the original. However, it must be understood that Lincoln owners of the older original and restored models are passionate in their love of the car. That is the ingredient that leads to the formation of a car club where like-minded souls can romance each other with their love of the old car.

A Marriage of Equals

But now something different has entered my experience with a car club. The Landmark Lincoln dealership owned by Tom Daniels brings a unique attitude to a relationship with the LCOC in Denver.  I got to know Tom when we were planning the 2016 Western National Meet for the LCOC. The Early Ford V8 Club with 160 members is a great group, but it has a tough time contemplating conducting a national meet. The LCOC had four active members when it contemplated doing such a meet. Bravado or insanity? Take your choice.

I had some experience with organizing such a meet, and I volunteered to join the club. Big ideas attract people of ambition and a very active, aggressive committee was formed. Our meeting place was the conference room at Landmark. I am used to meeting on back patios or church basements; it was nice to have a good conference room with off-street parking. I volunteered to manage the banquet program, and I needed a headliner speaker to feature in the program. That is when I met Tom. He immediately got on board and made the arrangements to have the Lincoln Operations Manager as our main presenter at the banquet. National car shows cost money, most of which has to be covered by registration fees. Tom made some substantial contributions that helped keep our costs down. We have never had a dealer do that before.

After the meet was over, I encountered Tom again at the St Jude’s Hospital Benefit Car Show that he hosts at the dealership. To my surprise, each participant in the show was handed a $20 bill at the registration table. Never have I seen a dealer give a gratuity to participants at a car show. Now I was curious – why St Jude’s Hospital? If you are my age, you may remember when St. Jude’s was called the Danny Thomas Hospital named after the popular TV personality that gave it national exposure and did major fund raising to help it grow and be successful in its charitable mission. But Tom has a plan in mind that I find to be very interesting.

A Plan Born of Synergy

Like most clubs, the LCOC has a newsletter to inform the membership of upcoming activities and to relate stories of interest to those faithful to the Lincoln brand. Newsletters come in many forms, and they can be seen as a valuable resource, if the right creativity is applied. The national club has a really spiffy magazine full of stories, club news and technical articles. The local club has a simple computer generated document of a few pages with vestigial editing. To my surprise, a recent newsletter arrived with full 8 X 10 color offset printing. Jacob (Jake) Dout, our very ambitious and dedicated club regional director, received funds from Tom for our local club to uplevel our newsletter. I was then contacted by Tom, who happens to be a fan of my novel, and I was asked if I would edit the club newsletter. I am a writer, not an editor, but I was curious about why Tom was so interested in a club newsletter. This called for a meeting with Tom, Jake and myself. The result was interesting to say the least.

Honoring the Brand

My thought was that Tom wanted a vehicle to bring in leads for his salesmen to follow. Not the case. What he wants is a high quality, quarterly magazine style publication that will have good shelf life and will be welcome in a professional office. That is a rather odd request of a club with about 75 gearhead oriented members. Within set limits, he is willing to finance the publication so it can be professionally edited. Why? Old fashioned sales training uses the axiom: “Sell yourself, Sell your company, Sell your product.” That is the path Tom is following. He is more interested in projecting a high end image for his dealership and for the Lincoln branch of the Ford Motor Company than he is in harvesting sales leads. He appreciates that by supporting and encouraging the LCOC membership, he is tapping into the evangelists for the brand. Who better to build up the image? Never had a dealership expressed that sentiment about a car club, and then backed it up with deeds and money.

Synergy as a Win-Win-Win

Now you have a clearer picture of how honoring the brand can lead to success in the profit world. What about the non-profit world? This is where synergy can be a major win-win. Why St. Jude’s? Again, it is about image backed up with results. Tens of thousands of dollars have been raised by Landmark for St Jude’s. On a rainy day for the last car show, the club workers were contemplating eating the breakfast donuts and going home. They received a big surprise when 150 cars showed up and all but overflowed the lot. Next year the show will move to a much larger site. The combination of a very worthwhile charitable cause and a hard working club backed by a dedicated sponsor is breeding success. Smart plan. And, of course, the third “win” in this synergy plan is the community – meaning you, me, and everyone.

The Adventure – Drive

So now the “rally” begins. Pack your bags full of ideas and expectations. There’s plenty of room in the trunk. Fasten your seat belt, and get ready for a fantastic trip as we work this partnership. Like a good driver and a focused navigator work together to create an excellent trip, our club is now partnered with a very supportive dealership. We will follow our own path, but we will do it in a very interesting and perhaps quite novel way. Stay tuned. In the meantime, you might be curious to see what Tom likes about my writing. You can do that by going to CharlesClarkAuthor.com

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