Exhibitors add unique touches, fun to turn heads

Bruno Francois, CEO and founder of Car360, demonstrates an app that can create 360-degree images of vehicles on a DeLorean displayed at the company’s booth.

Photo credit: Nick Bunkley

For its first NADA convention, Car360 got a booth in a distant corner of the show floor. But it still had little trouble drawing a constant gaggle of onlookers intrigued by the DeLorean it put on display.

Car360, whose technology creates slick-looking 3-D images of a vehicle by taking a quick walk around it with a smartphone, figured it should use something unique to grab dealers’ attention.

“Nobody else does 3-D like this, and we needed something iconic,” said Bruno Francois, the CEO and founder. “We could put a Porsche or a Ferrari or whatever, but it’s not as iconic.”

An Irish-made, gull-winged sports car from a 1980s movie trilogy is just one of many creative ways for vendors to get noticed among the largely monotonous grid of exhibitors. Many have made themes or stunts a tradition at the annual convention, to the point that attendees look for them year after year.

Dealer Solutions & Design, a firm that has managed the construction or renovation of more than 1,000 dealerships, decided to change things up after several years of dressing as doctors and nurses. (The medical theme involved handing out hypodermic needle-shaped pens reading, “Give us a shot at your next facility.”)

This year’s booth mimicked a construction site, with cones, blueprints laid out over a pair of sawhorses, a large plastic water cooler and a few “builder babes” for good measure. The firm’s president, Bob Stewart, wore a hardhat and reflective vest as he passed out pacifiers bearing the slogan, “Don’t babysit your next facility.”

“We just try to think of something a little different so people remember us,” Stewart said. “We believe in having a pattern interrupt — when people are walking along the show floor they’ve got their minds on something else, so we hand them these and people go, ‘What? What do you all do?’”

Sports themes are common, particularly putting and basketball games. Experian Automotive took that a step further with a giant crane game filled with inflatable basketballs.


There are lots of giveaways and incentives, too — from plastic cars or stuffed mascots to money and other prizes. SiriusXM offered dealers who signed up for its offerings the chance to win one of three guitars autographed by Willie Nelson, Buddy Guy or Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys.

Dealertrack gave $ 100 gift cards to any dealer who attended a prescheduled demonstration, and added on an iPad mini for anyone who bought a product afterward. A spokeswoman said it ran the same promotion last year, giving out 155 gift cards and 122 iPads, and brought nearly double the supply of each this time.

ADESA, which operates auto auctions, drew a sizable crowd Saturday when it auctioned off a Harley-Davidson Dyna Street Bob FXDB motorcycle. The auction raised $ 128,000 for the NADA Foundation’s Frank E. McCarthy Memorial Fund.

Auto/Mate, a dealer management system provider, has tried a variety of approaches in recent years. It offered an oxygen bar in 2015 and set up a shaved-ice cart this year as part of an elaborate Hawaiian theme.

Hawaiian shirt

CEO Mike Esposito, who wore a Hawaiian shirt and flower lei while greeting show-goers, said the theme was conceived not only to make people take notice, but also to reflect the company’s relaxed business atmosphere. Because most potential customers are likely already under contract with a competitor, Esposito said the goal is that dealers will remember their encounter with Auto/Mate when they eventually have the option to switch providers.

“You really want people to stop and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on over here?’“ Esposito said. “We get great reactions from people who walk by.”

You can reach Nick Bunkley at nbunkley@crain.com. — Follow Nick on Twitter


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