Ford fuels sales in Edwardsburg through schoolsPublished 8:49am Thursday, September 17, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
EDWARDSBURG – Ford Motor Co., alone among Michigan’s Big Three automakers in declining taxpayer bailout money from the government to survive a global recession, was driven to creatively corral customers other ways.
Months before Cash for Clunkers, Ford seemed to say if we can’t lure car buyers into our showrooms, we’ll take our showroom to them.
That’s how in May a Dowagiac dealership, C. Wimberley, sent a caravan of 10 new vehicles to Edwardsburg the Saturday before Mother’s Day for an event which at $20 a head translated into $2,760 for the district’s educational foundation.
C. Wimberley’s Jim Allen presented Ford’s check Wednesday evening at the administration building to Diana Lung, a foundation board member, teachers union president and kindergarten instructor at Edwardsburg Primary School who is coming up on her 40th anniversary with the district, and foundation President Stan Disher, a past school board member.
The check represents closure for the first installment of what Ford called “Drive 4UR School.”
“We going to do Dowagiac (in October). We’re setting it up right now,” said Allen, who has been with C. Wimberley (and Haggin-Wimberley) for 27 years.
“We were a little nervous about this was going to go down,” Allen said, but Lung “did all the work. She’s highly organized” and angling for a second test-drive event the same time next spring.
The amount of Ford’s check suggests a robust turnout of 138 – much more than the 40 to 60 they expected without even factoring in windy, 48-degree weather, in contrast to the comfortable sunny 75 degrees Sept. 16.
“We froze,” Lung said, even before rain fell.
“I know Chuck Wimberley because I had his stepson in school, and I’m on the (foundation) board here,” Lung said. “I called Chuck about giving money to the foundation and he said, ‘Maybe we can do something that will work out for both of us,’ and he told me about” Ford’s program.
“We went from there,” she said. “We could get online with Ford directly. They had all this information and we could order posters. We put out sign-up sheets to the buildings and teachers signed up to come in and drive a car. We had snacks.”
“We ended up with some car sales out of it,” Allen confirmed. “We had more inquiries than sales, but we sold a couple.”
Lung said, “Chuck Wimberley Ford is a pretty good dealership, but Edwardsburg doesn’t know them because it’s in Dowagiac. I think it pulled some of our people who said, ‘Oh, that’s not that far.’ If you can go to South Bend (Ind.) you can go to Dowagiac. Then some Dowagiac people came in and said, ‘How come you’re doing this in Edwardsburg? Why don’t you do it in Dowagiac?”
“What was really nice,” Lung said, was that Wimberley sent three salesmen and his operations manager in addition to the 10 rides, but “there was absolutely no pressure at all. People came in, filled out some paperwork and the gentlemen said, ‘The keys are in the car. Which one do you want to drive?’ They had a course laid out, and when they came back they could drive another one.”
Lung laughed recalling how some drivers lingered a half hour over the 10-minute course and came back all but drooling over such models as a $45,000 truck with side mirrors that adjusted to the load being hauled.
“Two things they said was it was so low pressure – that was a comment we got all the time – and it was just really neat to be able to drive such a nice car. It was really a good time.”
Heated seats on such a cold day proved popular, too.
Allen said the weather seemed moderate enough in Dowagiac, but dived as they drove south through Cass County. He had to borrow a jacket from Deb Cripe.
“It was so windy,” Lung recalled, “that our custodians tied the canopy to a truck to keep it from blowing away. They moved the buses so we could use this area because we had a tremendous turnout. I didn’t get my voice back until June.”
Allen was bothered by a cold he caught on a Labor Day canoe trip.
“We had the whole school family,” she said. “Teachers, custodians, parents, people who drove by and saw it: ‘What are you guys doing?’ It was great.”
Edwardsburg Public School Foundation isn’t there yet, but it is building toward scholarship support on a par with the Kalamazoo Promise.
The foundation, which operates independently of the school district, this year awarded scholarships to 16 Edwardsburg seniors.
There will be five grants up to $500 that will be given to teachers this year for classroom extras, field trips, conferencing over the Internet, after-school enrichment offerings, which fourth and fifth graders and a special rocker chair for the primary special needs class.
“Lots of things that the school can’t do right now,” Lung said. “We want to be able to do more, and this is going to help us do more.”