• Chicago Auto Pros

How To: Plan a Car Meet

Car meets and auto shows are a universal coming together of all things and people within the car culture community. It’s where you’ve seen everything from tastefully modified tuners to high-end, highly modified exotics. But unlike your big brand auto shows, in most cases the owners of these amazing show cars are on-hand to answer all of your questions. For the car community, car meets are a treasured tradition. But, you wonder, what does it take to plan one? How much effort goes into planning meets like Import Face Off and Tuner Evolution? How do you get sponsors to come out and participate? How do you entertain your patrons and create a memorable experience for them that will keep them coming back? There are so many blanks to fill in when planning a car meet, but if you’re organized, diligent and prepared, planning a car meet can be a very rewarding venture.

Planning a car meet, like almost any event, at its core, revolves around four critical aspects: organization, planning, diligence, and preparedness. By keeping these 4 things at the front of your mind, planning a car meet will still be a challenge. However, it will be easier to take on those challenges as long as you stay focused and, above all else, have fun with it. Let’s take you through our own “Car Meet Planning Guide”.

The first step to planning the meet is to pick out a date. It seems like a simple task, however the one thing to remember is that if you live near densely populated cities or areas, chances are there just might be other car meets and auto shows happening that day as well. Check your calendar and pick out a few prospective dates that would best work for you and the people you plan on inviting. By doing this, you will be ensuring that you aren’t setting the date to be the same date as other potentially larger and more prominent meets.

As far as what day of the week to plan for, weekends are usually the way to go. We typically like to schedule our meets on sundays, as that is when all businesses around us tend to be closed, which makes getting permission to use the lot space much easier. Fridays and Saturdays are fine as well, although extra attention should be paid to knowing how much lot space you will have along with finding a time that will pose the least amount of conflict for all parties attending or involved. But, we will get into that in a minute.

So, now you’ve picked your date for the meet. The next thing is location. How much room will you need? Will you have to get any special permissions from the town you will be hosting the meet in? What kind of cars do you want to attend? How much will food / catering / entertainment cost and where do I look for those services? These are all very important questions that you should address right off the bat when you begin planning out your event. If you’re planning to host the meet on property that is city-owned, such as large parking lots or structures, be sure to contact your local permit office to ensure that all lot permissions and / or rental / reservation fees are taken care of. Failure to do this will result in the possibility of a shut down by the local authorities, which is something you obviously do not want to happen.

Once your venue is sorted, the next thing we recommend you take care of is your food and catering. For smaller meets, nothing more than a couple barbecue grills should be needed. If it’s a bigger one, we recommend booking a local food truck or catering service. But make sure that you get on the phone sooner than later. Food truck owners are busy people, and as a result, there might be a delay between the time you reach out and when they are able to get back to you. On a deadline, hold-ups are never fun to deal with. Planning out your catering first will mitigate that risk. Once you connect with a food truck owner or rep, there are a few things that you should be ready to discuss with them. The main thing is their minimum rates.

Minimums are rates set by the business owner of the food truck that are typically based on things like the distance that the truck will have to travel to attend the event, the number of patrons attending, and an average per-dollar expenditure for each patron. For example, if you plan on having 150 people at your meet, and the per-dollar estimate for each patron to spend on food is $12, then you would expect a minimum of about $1,800 in your estimate. What that means is that the truck must bring in $1800 or more in revenue from the event in order for you to not have to pay extra fees. Typically, most food truck businesses will also require a 50% deposit on the minimum to lock in the reservation. So, in this case, with a $1800 minimum, you can expect to have to put down $900 to lock in your reservation. If the minimum is met, then you won’t have to pay any additional fees. If you go above the minimum, some food truck businesses will even refund a portion of your deposit! Again, this will vary greatly from truck to truck. This is a general outline to give you an idea of what to expect.

When requesting quotes, try and figure out these numbers by figuring out how big you think the meet will be. In some cases, if it’s a smaller meet, a food truck might not be required, as it is possible to simply set up a grill and bring your own food items to prepare. Again, this is something that you should check with your local permit office if you plan on using open flame in a city owned lot or structure.

Another piece of advice is to not shoot for the stars. Unless you’re running Pebble Beach or the Concours D’ Elegance, booking a more expensive truck pr catering service won’t really be necessary. Go for simple, portable foods, and keep the flavors simple and enjoyable as well. Patrons will typically spend more on food that is less messy and more portable, as this means they can enjoy the show while satisfying their appetite.

Now that the food truck is booked, the next thing to do is to promote the event! No one will show up to your meet if they don’t know that it’s happening, so make sure that you spend a good amount of time promoting your meet to your audience. In this case, social media is your best friend. Create an event and invite everyone you know to it. Then, tell them to invite everyone they know. Build a rapport with your attendees by frequently posting messages to the event board. Talk about the event and engage with your guests! They will ask questions and you should be ready to answer them quickly.

Design a flyer and post it to as many forums as you can (that allow it of course). Go to car meets and bring some printed flyers with you to hand out. Patrons at these meets are always eager to show off their cars, and being there in person to invite them to your event will ultimately make a lasting impression on them. Additionally, platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all come with paid advertising applications that are easy to use and set up, so be sure to explore those options as well. Remember, the more you advertise, the more attendance you are likely to draw. You don’t have to be good at graphic design or photography, as there are several online solutions that you can use to create artwork online if you want to make a flyer!

The next question that ties in to promoting before the event is promoting during the event itself. This means, that in addition to food, you should look into entertainment for your patrons. Everyone loves winning free stuff, so we suggest either a raffle, or getting a sponsor to come to the meet and do a giveaway sign up contest. This will provide incentive for people to come, so if you can, make sure it is something automotive related. For example, we worked with Crown Customs and Coatings, as well as Forma Car Care to have various product and gift certificate giveaways at our meet. The result was tons of interest and sign ups, which elevated the incentive for patrons to consider coming out.

The best way to start your sponsorship search is to start searching locally. There are several speed and performance / custom shops that are always looking to promote their brand, and there is no better place for them than in front of people with money to spend on car parts. Depending on the size and scale of your event, these businesses are usually more than happy to come out if there’s a big enough draw. If this is your first time planning a meet, however, don’t worry if you can’t get a sponsor right away. But, rest assured there is always one shop who will contribute to your cause - which brings me to my next point: diligence.

At this point there are quite a few moving parts, and it can get frustrating to keep everything moving in sync. Stay diligent as you check everything off your to-do list. Keep a written log of everything needed and you will even gain some satisfaction in crossing your tasks off the list. By doing this, you are also ensuring that you aren’t missing any details or important points. You also are ensuring that nothing is left out of detail.

As the date of the meet fast-approaches, It’s important to generate hype for the event. Post about it on your social media on a regular basis. Open yourself up to answering any questions from prospective patrons, as this will make them feel more confident and at-ease about attending your event. Always keep tabs on who is commenting and sharing your posts as this is a good gauge of interest. That brings me to my next two points - organization and preparedness.

Before the show, make a list of everything that is happening that day. Know things like when your catering will arrive, and ensure that all patrons know at what time they can begin arriving to park their cars. We recommend opening the gates at least 30 minutes prior to your event, as this will allow enough time for most of your exhibiting patrons to arrive and set their vehicles up for the show. We suggest this mainly for safety purposes, One thing that can be overlooked while planning a car meet is safety. Walking patrons and moving vehicles in close proximity never mix well, and can lead to injury if not properly addressed.

Produce a map of your meet, and be sure to include specific designations like bathroom and information locations, where the food truck will be parked, and if you have sponsors, where their booths will be set up. By giving your patrons a map of the event, you are actually instilling even more confidence in them as they can get an overall snapshot of what the meet will be like. This will help you out as well as patrons will be less inclined to shower you with endless “where can I find….” questions, freeing you up to be ready for the big day as the host of your meet.

You’ve planned accordingly, and you’ve done your homework, and everything has been checked off the list. Now, all that’s left to do is actually host! One thing that you will want to have with you is an itinerary that covers everything happening at your event throughout the day. Once most of your patrons have arrived, be sure to introduce yourself and go over the itinerary for the day. Mention any and all giveaways, as well as food and drink, and other entertainment plans you have. Continuously promote the event activities throughout the day. Walk the lot and ensure that all patrons are getting along, and that nothing is amiss.

By being present and available, you are allowing patrons to directly interact with you and more fully embrace the event, as they can put a face to the occasion. You are also ensuring that you create a good impression on your guests by sharing your passion for cars. While doing all of this, we also highly recommend that you bring a camera along with you to capture the event. That way, you can capture the meet as it’s happening. What’s more is that your patrons will love seeing images of their cars and will more than likely share them after the meet. This is an important part of your marketing strategy as your images will serve as a documentation of the experience for those who were not in attendance to see. This can in turn create more interest for your next meet, and ultimately help it grow and prosper if you do everything right.

There may be plenty of moving parts when it comes to planning a car meet, but at its core, planning a meet can be a fairly simple affair as long as you know what to plan for. Use this guide the next time you plan a meet, and be sure to engage with your local car community! The odds are that at the next meet you go to, you will meet patrons who have hosted their own meets, both big and small with successful results. With diligent planning, organization, promotion and preparedness, you can be sure that your next car meet will be one to remember.

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