Andy Guelcher has learned the power of the gift card.
In March, as the state of New York began implementing COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, Guelcher, president of Mohawk Chevrolet in Clifton Park, N.Y., said Mohawk Auto Group, which includes nearby Mohawk Honda, began to discuss ways it could help the community.
“The first thing that came out of that was restaurants,” Guelcher said. “Restaurants were completely closed. They still weren’t able to adapt to their takeout methods, how they were going to serve people and who they could have back.
“So we said, for revenue purposes, ‘Why don’t we just get these banks of $50 gift cards that we can distribute from all these local area restaurants? Maybe we can help make a difference with a restaurant, not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless, with revenue for these restaurants.’ ”
From there, the group’s plan was straightforward.
Its social media team would hop on either the Mohawk Chevrolet or Mohawk Honda Facebook page, start a livestream video feed from outside a restaurant and encourage viewers to like and share the video.
That evening, someone from the team would then pick a gift card winner at random from the group of people who liked or shared the video.
“It was one of the first actions we took,” Guelcher recalled, noting that the initial video went live in late March.
Then a funny thing happened.
People started watching the videos. Lots of people.
“We had no idea the amount of organic views we would get on these,” Guelcher said. “ ’Staggering’ is probably an understatement. One that comes to mind is a local hot dog joint in Schenectady called Mike’s Hot Dogs. It’s nothing special. It’s been there for probably 80 years. This video got like 16,000 views and shares for a $50 gift card. It was just incredible.”
Guelcher credits local news coverage for spreading the word about the gift card giveaways and subsequent spikes in views, but he also noted that early on in the pandemic, more people seemed to be on social media, meaning that the potential audience was already there.
“We had a pretty good kick right away,” he said.
Guelcher estimated that the dealerships have done around 80 to 90 videos and counting as of early September. The gift cards, some of which were for $100, have largely been to local restaurants, he said.
“They were very pleased with it,” Guelcher said. “It’s just a good way to support them and a good way to generate a lot of goodwill in the communities.”
To be sure, buying such a quantity of gift cards has added up. As of early September, Guelcher said the group had spent $7,200 on gift cards.
“That’s immaterial in the grand scheme of things from an advertising budget standpoint,” he said.
Mohawk Chevrolet sells around 185 new and used vehicles combined per month, while Mohawk Honda sells around 500 new and used vehicles combined per month, Guelcher said.
Guelcher called the videos a catchall for local engagement and has seen it paying returns at both stores.
“We have had feedback from customers in both locations that have told us that they are now going to do business with us or have and will continue to do business with us” because of the videos, Guelcher said. “That is the key driver in their decision-making process to do business with us. I think that’s pretty cool. I’ve probably heard that a dozen times, and I couldn’t tell you how many times my team has heard that.”
Guelcher also believes the impact of the videos could translate to new customers to the group’s two brands.
“They’re more now associating us with being a goodwill community ambassador as our brand,” he said. “Because of that, they’ll consider a Chevy or a Honda where they may have been a Subaru or a Ford owner before. I think we’re getting cracks at the bat that we didn’t get prior to this.”
Guelcher said the stores continue to host the videos and gift card giveaways. The Chevrolet dealership recently held one at a cider mill in recognition of the changing season, he said.
“I think a lot of the stuff that we’ve done, marketing and otherwise, driven largely by the pandemic is stuff that we will keep doing, and probably in hindsight, stuff that we should have been doing before,” Guelcher said.
“This is stuff that we’ll continue to do because it’s working. It’s good for the community, and it’s good for our people to be involved. It really is a very, very low-cost advertising method that’s incredibly effective if you want to blanket a community.”