Shortly after you buy a car from Hayes Brothers in Salt Lake City, the $60-million dealership invites you over for dinner. The sales staff serves up a complete chicken dinner, washed down with Hayes's own brand of bottled water served in a reusable, take-away 20-ounce bottle.

After dinner, customers are given a hands-on demonstration of how to check auto fluid levels plus remarks on proper car maintenance and operation. Participants' cars get off to a good start with coupons for a free 3,000-mile checkup, lube, and oil change. Door prizes are offered for the oldest car, highest-mileage car, greatest number of vehicles purchased from Hayes Brothers, and other categories. Forty percent of new-car buyers attend the events.

Roger Ogden, general manager of the 130-employee dealership, has turned these educational dinners into a customer-service and marketing bonanza. Twenty-five percent of customer thank-you notes mention the dinners. Buick National has videotaped the event, and most dealers in the Salt Lake City area have introduced lesser versions, according to Ogden. Since the program began in 1992, service department sales are up 25%. New-car sales are up also, even though Hayes Brothers does little conventional advertising. "It's a lot of fun for customers and employees," says Ogden, "and our bottled water has really taken off. We give it away all the time and are buying it in 1,000-case lots. Research shows that 75% of these bottles are refilled and reused--and they have Hayes Brothers' customer-service number printed right there on the label."

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing