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A Far-Fetched Marketing Idea

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Walk into a dealership and a customer expects to see cars on the showroom floor, smiling faces of sales associates and possibly a service department employee. But for many dealerships, there’s another addition: a dealership dog.

At Kingston Nissan in New York, customers walking in the front door were immediately drawn to the site of an English bulldog, Ozzie, with a balloon tied to his collar (so customers wouldn’t trip over his sleeping form, general manager Tom Gordon says). Ozzie has since passed, but his legacy at the dealership lives on.

At Stoudt-Ross Ford, Heather Mae Wetzel is often greeted as “Ike’s mom” by customers who know Ike, her five-month-old Bernese Mountain dog.

Pets at the dealership—just a cute gimmick? Think again. For roughly 10 years, not only was Ozzie a customer service greeter, he also starred in the dealership’s commercials, adding antics to the advertisements like when he wore a cape and rescued a woman tied to train tracks.

Ozzie entered the dealership mere months after it opened and was a vital point of customer retention from the beginning, Gordon says.

Wetzel got Ike in October 2018 and immediately started bringing him into Stoudt-Ross Ford in Valley City, N.D. Wetzel, the business development manager, says she took pictures of him and put him on the dealership’s Facebook page.

“As long as he makes someone smile during the day, we’ve done a great job!” Wetzel says.

From the puppy stages onward, the reality is that pets, in all their glory, can be an extremely effective tool to add personality and become memorable to customers.

 

A Comforting Presence

Part of the allure to bringing Ozzie into the shop was to make it feel like a family atmosphere. Ozzie was adopted by Gordon and his wife six months after the dealership opened its doors. At the time, the dealership was just starting out in the market and underperforming, Gordon says.

In 2018, the dealership produced over 100 percent more business than it had when it started in 2005. And, Gordon has reason to believe that Ozzie was partly responsible for that increase.

“Part of the reason we brought Ozzie into the dealership is because we just love dogs,” Gordon says. “But, since he’s passed away, there has been a drop in customer traffic.”

At Stoudt-Ross Ford, Wetzel and Mike Rhinehart, general manager, bring in their dogs to the office in order to break the ice when meeting new people. While Wetzel and Rhinehart bring in the pets in order to bring a smile to someone’s face after he or she was in an accident, they remain aware of situations in which people don’t like dogs. In those instances, Wetzel will take her dog and Rhinehart’s gordon setters into a separate room with a closed door to make the customer feel comfortable.

 

An “Ad”-ed Bonus

Gordon immediately started using Ozzie in commercials for the business. The cable television advertisements showed Gordon either holding Ozzie or having Ozzie sit next to him.

Some of the ads featured only Ozzie with the name of the dealership across the screen and Ozzie riding a skateboard or snowboard. Gordon featured Ozzie in the ads as a way to make the dealership stand out and for the public to gain awareness of the fact the business supports animals.

In addition to spreading the name of the shop as a customer- and pet-friendly company, the advertisements had an easy theme when they occurred during the national dog holidays like National Dog Day, National Pet Week and National Pet Month. During these days, the dealership ran one type of advertisement that featured pictures of Ozzie in order to keep the name top-of-mind with the customer and connect with people who own pets.

At Stoudt-Ross Ford, Wetzel says she sees more customers walking back in the door after having bought a service and inquiring after her puppy.

 

A Charity Effort

After Ozzie’s unexpected passing in 2015, Gordon and the rest of the staff created “The Ozzie Fund,” where Gordon and the staff picked five local, no-kill animal shelters to which to donate.

Kingston Nissan advertised the charity fundraiser to the public and the customers who had come in to the dealership inquiring after Ozzie. For every car the dealership sold, the business donated to the shelters. The dealership asked for public donations, as well. The news of Ozzie’s passing had made its way into the community, so the campaign started when his death was fresh in the public’s mind and lasted about three months during the year. In 2018, Gordon decided to lower the timeframe to three weeks. The dealership raised roughly $12,000 for the shelters that year.

For a dealership looking to turn one animal into a charity cause, Gordon recommends starting by picking local charities that are nonprofit, in which the dealership can donate money to.

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