On a cool December day, the sedans gleam outside Sterling BMW in Newport Beach, big red, shiny bows on their windshields visible to motorists zooming along Pacific Coast Highway.
The concept is simple: Bows convey that cars could be a gift for someone -- or for yourself.
The bows are more than window dressing: New car sales managers at local dealerships in Orange County say they help draw attention to the cars and SUVs in a still-tight economy where every sale is critical.
The bows don't sell the car, of course. But they attract a lot of attention.
No one knows that more than Lynda King, founder of King Size Bows in Costa Mesa, who gets orders for giant showroom-ready bows from car dealerships across the U.S. in the summer and fall and ships bows the size of car tires in time for the holiday shopping season.
Many of the bows from King's company can be found in numerous carmakers and dealerships, including Sterling BMW, Tustin Toyota. Honda, Mercedes Benz in Canada, Acura and Hyundai. Car bows from King Size Bows were first featured in Lexus commercials years ago, and other car brands have since turned to the King and her growing number of competitors.
"Oprah put me on the map more than anything else," King said. "She was giving 276 cars away on her show. A woman called me at 5 o'clock on a Friday and asked me if I could have 100 of them by 8:30 on Saturday. Of course, I couldn't, at that time. I didn't have that kind of inventory back then. I never put it together (that it was for Oprah's show).
The bows did get their moment in the spotlight. When the Oprah show later delivered the Pontiac G6 cars to audience members in 2004, each automobile arrived with a bow from King's company.
It's not just Oprah and car dealers who buy big bows. King Size Bows has an online retail division that sells in-stock bows to consumers. Among the various colors and styles, the $49.99 Monarch bow is the item ordered the most by consumers and auto dealerships. "It's made of a series of heavy papers that are mounted together and silver embossed foil," King said. "It's bright red on the outside and lined with silver. Silver makes the bow pop."
Putting a bow on the car screams "gift" to customers without really saying it aloud, car sales managers say.
At Tustin Toyota, customers who buy cars as gifts for a spouse or a child sometimes ask if the bow could be placed on the car when they pick it up, said Bob Meyerson, general manager for car sales at the dealership. Tustin Toyota has two bows from King Size Bows.
At the deluxe end of the car dealership spectrum, Sterling BMW has 15 bows on display -- 10 for outside and five for inside, all from King Size Bows.
"I thought it would give the showroom more of a holiday spirit," said Doug Janco, new car sales manager at Sterling BMW.
December is a busy month for both car dealerships. Last year, U.S. dealers sold 12.7 million cars and trucks in December, historically the biggest month for auto sales, according to reports from the National Automobile Dealership Association.
Some consumers want to take advantage of deals on the remainder of the year's inventory. Others want to buy or lease the newest models, while some are considering the gift of a car, Meyerson said.
Contrast the December blockbuster sales with January 2011 U.S. sales of 816,652 cars and trucks, and it's no surprise that car dealers want to use every useful selling and merchandising tool to capture the demand at its peak -- even if it's something as old-fashioned as making a sizeable object look like a gift simply by putting a bow on it.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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