Electronic message center attracts commuters
to Chaparral Motorsports
By Nadia Higgins
Chaparral Motorsports, a dealership in San Bernardino, Calif., faced a marketing challenge. The highway alongside the dealership’s showroom was going to be elevated, and both the building and sign would no longer be visible to passing motorists. Not only that, the exit that led to the dealership would be removed. At the same time, street reconfigurations meant that they now would be located along the main thoroughfare, with as many as 14,200 cars driving past every hour.
But, as dealership personnel knew from experience, all those cars rushing past did not necessarily mean more customers coming in.
“Strangely, we would always hear, ‘Oh, I’ve driven by this building a thousand times, and I never knew what was inside of it,’ — even though we have signs of all the manufacturers posted,” said Crystal Ashby, Chaparral’s vice president of marketing. “We needed to make every effort we could that customers knew we were here and found it easy to get here.”
The result was a towering, 15-foot by 30-foot full-color digital sign erected on the dealership’s frontage property in May. Like a Vegas marquee, the rotating sign attracts with bright lights and sophisticated graphics that can clearly be seen from both sides of the 215 Freeway.
“It’s like a big-screen TV,” Ashby noted, adding that, though they could play movies on it, California DOT regulations prohibit motion graphics of any kind.
A computer inside the dealership controls the sign, and the company’s in-house graphic artists design the ads. Then, using the software that was purchased along with the sign, programmers control the order in which ads appear, how long they run — and at what times of day.
The dealership updates ads at least weekly, if not daily. Between four and 12 ads will rotate on screen during a single day. When traffic moves smoothly, each ad stays up for six to eight seconds. But during rush hour, that changes to four-second spots to take advantage of the captive audience stalled along the freeway. The dealership turns the sign off entirely between 1 and 3 a.m. to save electricity and improve the sign’s longevity, which is estimated at 10 years.
Though the sign has been up for just four months, the sales staff is already seeing a resulting boost in customer traffic. Also, according to Traffic Log Pro data, “more customers have started saying that they’ve noticed us because of the building or because of the sign versus, say, Google or another source,” Ashby said.
The dealership has noticed that some ads are particularly effective. Digital announcements for low-ticket items such as T-shirts or sunglasses have been directly linked to increased sales. The same is true for an ad about electric generators made by Honda and Yamaha. The sign spreads the word “about products that aren’t maybe related to motorcycles that people didn’t know we carried,” Ashby said.
And when Chaparral does advertise motorcycles directly, “we don’t necessarily push specific brands,” Ashby said. Instead, they promote “a lifestyle” that will appeal to the sign’s varied viewers.
For example, one popular ad showed a married couple on a Gold Wing with the punch line “Marriage Counseling.” Another read “Leave the top down” with a picture of a cruiser. As gas prices were on the rise, the dealership promoted scooters as a fuel-efficient option. Ashby says that, as with any billboard, humor and simplicity are the key to grabbing a viewer’s attention.
It took the dealership a full year-and-a-half to research their purchase and get it set up. According to dealership owner David Damron, the sign’s “large reach” was a primary consideration in making the decision, but the purchase also made economic sense.
“Outdoor advertising is one of the most effective ways to reach consumers,” he said, but “using third party billboards is extremely expensive. The sign would essentially pay for itself over a three-year period if you were to commit to an outdoor advertising campaign of the same coverage.”
Chaparral Motorsports bought the sign from a local company whose name they found on the side of another billboard outside an auto dealership in town. The sign company offered not only reasonable rates, but marketing expertise as well as ongoing technical support. Importantly, the sign company also helped navigate the dealership through a number of city ordinances.
“We had to research this issue or resolve that problem for the city,” Ashby noted. For example, the dealership had to have its soil tested to determine if it could withstand the weight of the sign.
Ashby’s advice for other dealers interested in erecting their own digital billboards? “Do your research.” Location is the first consideration. How much traffic will flow past the sign? Ashby and her team researched statistics about traffic flow available from California’s DOT.
“Be prepared to pay the electric bill,” she adds, though since the billboard uses LED technology, the bills haven’t been “outrageous.”
“Make sure you have someone in-house or you have a company that can make graphics for you.” And, finally, “find a good sign company that will spell out all the city regulations and make sure you’re prepared for them.”
Ashby doesn’t how long it will take Chaparral Motorsports to earn back the entire return on its investment, “but I’d definitely say it’s been worth it.”