I’ve heard it said that the love a person shows toward their vehicle is an involuntary response. The innate affection is built into our genes from the days when a horse and rider formed a bond that went far beyond transportation; a faithful animal makes a wonderful companion. Anyone who has ever owned a pet understands the connection; even if you can’t stand your cat when he claws up the couch, you find yourself in tears when he passes on.
Very few of us still own and ride horses, even fewer do so as a primary means of transportation, but the bond between the owner and their transportation lives on. Our vehicles become more than a way to get from point A to point B. For many of us they represent a little bit of who we are and often who we hope to someday be.
With pride of ownership comes the desire to share our good fortune with rest of the world. For many, simply owning a beloved vehicle, taking it to work or having it stored delicately in the garage or parked in the driveway is enough. For others, our vehicle represents a commitment so great that we enter it into judged shows, where it’s scrutinized and compared with similar vehicles in a battle for bragging rights and prizes.
There is yet another category of owner that the vast majority of die-hard car enthusiasts fall into, me included. While we take pride in storing our beloved machine under a cover in the garage, and certainly love taking it out on the open road and meeting folks along the way, we also enjoy sharing our significant investment with other like-minded enthusiasts in a fun, non-threatening environment. We are the “cars and coffee” crowd.
Not quite a “car show” and often a little less formal than a “cruise-in”, cars and coffee type events represent informal early morning gatherings comprised of just about anyone regardless of age, race, creed, color or gender. Waking up before the sun rises and driving out to a specified location to meet up with other car enthusiasts and share a cup of Joe allows us to show off our rides while celebrating our automotive “friends.” Unlike a formal car show, there typically aren’t any set rules on what qualifies as a participating vehicle, and in-progress project cars are often parked right beside late-model exotics. At one point, Barry Meguiar from the TV show “Car Crazy” peered over the vehicles at our event and said, “This is about as close to heaven as we get while here on earth.”
I have the privilege of running the Automotive Addicts Cars & Coffee show with my friend Malcolm Hogan in Jacksonville, Florida. Our event runs the second Saturday of every month from 8 to 11 a.m., and is centrally located in the heart of the city’s downtown area on the St. John’s River. Our cars and coffee event started in 2008, meeting in a few different locations before arriving at the Florida Times-Union’s headquarters in 2013. The cars and coffee gathering has grown exponentially. The Florida Times-Union lot and the adjacent businesses provide parking for about 600 vehicles and the show reaches usually reaches capacity before 9 a.m.
Every March we move our event about 45 minutes up the Florida coast to join forces with the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. This year, the event featured over 400 show vehicles and was held at the Ritz Carlton, on the 10th and 18th fairways of the Golf Club of Amelia Island (the same fairways where the heralded Concours is held).
With the growing number of local cars and coffee type shows popping up all over the country, I wanted to share a few tips that I have gathered along the way. My hope is that some of my past missteps and aggravation can help you avoid frustration and make your local event everything that it can be and more. Even if you aren’t planning on starting a cars and coffee event, these tips can help you know what to expect when visiting your local show.
Cars and Coffee Should Be a Safe Place For Everyone
Before we discuss logistics, it is important to remember that the true appeal of a cars and coffee event is not necessarily the cars, but the open and welcoming environment. Fostering a safe climate for participants is not simply about hiring local law enforcement to be present at the show, but celebrating all makes and models and the people who own them. Sure there will be the Ford versus Chevy folks that show up, but a well-run cars and coffee provides a setting that allows them to be together and celebrate the diversity.
Speaking of law enforcement, I have found it is helpful to hire a local officer to direct traffic at the show and be on the scene to help put out any potential “fires.” If the job falls to you, contact your local police department and request an officer who is equally passionate about cars, that shared joy will make the time at the show something that they look forward to. If cost is an issue, look for a local sponsor that will help cover the expense in return for recognition. Many local businesses will see the nominal cost as a great way to get their name out and show solidarity with the local automotive community.
I would also recommend building relationships with leaders of the other cruise-in events and car shows in town. A simple email or phone call to introduce yourself and welcome them to your cars and coffee will go a long way toward thwarting any potential misunderstandings or turf wars in the future. Work with local car club leadership to synergize efforts and help each other grow and flourish.
Find a Suitable Location
Through the years I have watched many good-intentioned car shows and cruise-ins fall apart because they couldn’t find a safe and sustainable location. The truth is, a small gathering of mature drivers can meet almost anywhere for an informal cup of coffee. The local Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot might be perfect for an hour, and the business owner might even appreciate the extra sales. However, when a group takes over an entire lot of a local business for longer than an hour or so, they run the risk of overstaying their welcome. Do this regularly and you may find a cease and desist letter in your mailbox.
The goal is to find a centrally located spot where hundreds of parked cars won’t interfere with local businesses or traffic flow. Sometimes this can be a commercial complex that is closed on the weekends or perhaps an outer lot of a large shopping center. Regardless of the location, do not set up an event without express written permission from the property owners. Make sure they understand what you are doing, meet with them in person and draw out the parameters of the agreement. If they require you to purchase event insurance, do so. If you reach an agreement and there are no food vendors on site, get permission to bring in some food trucks to service the event. Without the coffee, it is just cars.
Get the Word Out
It doesn’t take a small fortune in advertising dollars to get the word out on the street about your local cars and coffee event. Word of mouth is still the best bet for gathering like-minded enthusiasts. Social media only enriches the efforts. A carefully prepared website is great, but a free Facebook page can be equally effective.
Including a group of volunteers will also enrich the event. If you are simply an attendee, volunteering is the single greatest way to help ensure the longevity and continued success. Very few organizers will turn down help, especially if you’ve been a faithful participant.
Keep printing to a minimum to save money, unless you have a third party who is willing to bear the expense in exchange for a sponsorship possibility. In that case, pass on the cost of printed materials and prominently include the sponsor’s information.
Be creative in how you get the word out, no single solution will work in every situation.
Cars Plus Coffee Equals Fun
While running a successful cars and coffee style event can be a lot of work, I have found the experience is greatly rewarding. Very little comes close to the joy of watching a parent share their love of cars with their child. When couples roll in, park the car, and walk the lot hand in hand you can’t help see the value of your efforts.