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MERA Pushes Parking Lot Promos

Car stereo specialists should start marketing — without investing any money — by holding “parking lot” promotions to win over the next generation of car stereo hobbyists, said Barry Vogel, executive director of the Mobile Enhancement Retailers Association (MERA).

Vogel is calling on MERA members to convert their parking lots to local hangouts where kids can show off their cars. By inviting local vendors like ice cream shops to set up stands in the store lot on a Saturday, he said retailers can create the equivalent of soundoff contests without the sound or the contest.

Vogel’s store The Ultimate Edge, Oswego, N.Y., held its first such event in late April and attracted 20 to 30 cars. “Every Saturday, we’re inviting people to come down and wash their car and just hang out and talk to their friends. You just want to have a place where people can show off their cars,” Vogel said. He stressed that almost no investment is required on the part of the retailer.

“We have a local restaurant that will sell barbeque chicken and a local ice cream parlor that will sell ice cream. So when people drive by, they will see something going on. And we’ll cross promote. We’ll advertise our business at these locations.” Vogel also invited local schools to set up car washes for charity.

“We’ve been finding the traditional consumer ads don’t work anymore. People are so sick of being sold to, they ignore everything they see,” he said. Instead, Vogel is encouraging industry members to capitalize on a new trend — social networking. “What I’m talking about doing is creating an in-person social network at your store. It creates a place where your potential customer feels comfortable hanging out. We’re not selling them anything or giving them anything.”

The hope, of course, is that some of the parking lot revelers will wander into the store.

Vogel said soundoff contests “have their place in the industry” but they can be expensive, and the industry may need a less costly way to reach out to a new generation of hobbyists. “It was the hobbyist that built this industry; not the specialist. It was the kid working in his backyard, and we’ve crushed that. We told these people you can’t touch your vehicle or it will blow up. One of the keys to getting core car audio back is to introduce it to a whole new group of kids … I believe we can reinvigorate this as a hobby.”

Vogel said he plans to push the promotions as a tool for MERA members. “I’m going to beat this drum until somebody hears it. It’s the way the industry in general can get behind an initiative because no one is going to get scared off [by expenses],” he concluded.