Centennial Auto Group began holding test-drive events three years ago to benefit local causes. These events are now held year-round at each of the group’s nine dealerships on Prince Edward Island, generating goodwill and sales, said Eric Rodgerson, Centennial’s director of marketing and technology. 

“It really grew very quickly. It became just a thing that we do now. People know us for [the events].” 

While community involvement is often motivated by a desire to give back to customers and foster relationships, it also is good for business, according to a 2014 global survey by Nielsen. The study found that 55 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that demonstrate a commitment to making a positive social impact. 

During a recent test-drive event, Centennial Mazda raised $3,000 for Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown. Mazda Canada provided T-shirts, giveaway items and other support. 

Community events rev up around holidays with food drives and charitable donations. Centennial Auto Group recently sponsored a regional hockey game and offered 2,000 tickets to customers and others who wished to attend. 

The group combines its own marketing on social media with the efforts of the organizations assisted by the fundraising, Rodgerson said. 

“We can give back to the community, and we can also educate people who may not have come into our dealership otherwise on the brands that we carry,” he said. 

SALES TODAY, 2 YEARS LATER 

As for demonstrable return, each test-drive event results in one to two sales on the day that it’s held, Rodgerson said. However, there are also longer-term benefits. 

“Some people aren’t in the purchasing cycle at that point,” Rodgerson said. “We could sell acarthisyeartoa person that had a test drive two years ago.” 

Steve Ramsay, general sales manager for Centennial Honda in Summerside, said that while fostering relationships within the communitybenefits business, he sees it simply as the right thing to do. 

“The automotive business in P.E.I., and probably anywhere, has changed. It’s farther away from the showroom floor than it has ever been. In our small market, especially, a lot of connections are made outside the dealership. 

“It goes to our small market. These are our friends and neighbours, and we see them in the grocery store. This is just another part of it.” 

PRIDE IN VOLUNTEERING 

Another potential benefit to supporting charitable events is creating a more appealing work environment for a younger workforce. 

According to a 2017 Deloitte survey on volunteering, 89 per cent of workers think that companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment than those that do not. From that same group, 70 per cent think that volunteering is more likely to boost employee morale than company-sponsored happy hours. 

Moreover, this trend is strong among millennials. People in this age group “who frequently participate in workplace volunteer activities are more likely to be proud, loyal and satisfied employees, as compared to those who rarely or never volunteer,” the survey said. 

“Our average age at our dealership is 31, and most of our people want to make an impact, and that’s actually a benefit,” said Trent Hargrave, general manager of Riverside Dodge in Prince Albert, Sask., one of Automotive News Canada’s Best Dealerships To Work For in 2019. 

“That should be part of our role as an employer. It creates a culture of, ‘It’s about more than me.’ … All of a sudden, not only are you part of Riverside Dodge, but … a team that goes out and helps Habitat for Humanity or whatever. 

“Happy hour is awesome, but … a person’s work has to have meaning.” 

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