Mike Ruef, general manager of Lithia Mini of Portland in Oregon came up with a unique idea for a successful store event that drew a lot of customers.

Ruef likes Mini U.S.A.’s motto “Not Normal,” so he crafted his own approach to marketing the brand.

“With the Mini brand, people need to touch and feel it, get in it and drive it and then they’re excited,” he says. “So we try to spend our marketing dollars on things that will help them head in that direction.”

Featuring a Wild West theme, Ruef’s highly successful store event was reimbursed up to 75% in co-op funds from the auto maker.

Here’s how he did it.

The store decor was turned into an Old West setting. Painted on the front were images of a wagon train, old-time buildings and saloon doors.

Inside, the dealership set up roulette and poker tables and brought in hay bales for seating. Roping and whelping machines finished off the theme.

Ruef offered free pony rides in the parking lot, placing the pony corral near a busy street to attract drive-by traffic.

Dealership employees wore jeans and cowboy boots during the event. The finance and insurance director dressed up as an old-time banker.

For food, what else but a barbeque, including hot dogs and hamburgers?

Pre-promotional tools included direct mailers announcing the event and specials, as well as station time purchased on Pandora digital radio.

In offerings included “no-bull” discounts, Ruef’s team put together a fun and interactive promotion. They installed a mechanical bull in the middle of the delivery area and invited customers to try to stay on during the ride. The amount of time a rider was able to stay on the bull corresponded with a discounted amount for the car.

Ruef estimates nearly half of the 85 visitors during the event tried riding the bull. Many of them ended up buying a vehicle.

The event not only increased the amount of vehicle sold in the month by a large margin, it also earned the dealership a tie for first place in the region for their campaign and earned Mini’s coveted Golden Bulldog Award.

Ruef has a clear strategy for maximizing advertising and marketing.

“The key is to work with your OEM rep for those dollars,” he says. “Don’t double up on spending money on advertising the manufacturer is already doing. We try to complement the Mini campaigns so we get maximum mileage from them.”

Bryan Osterhout is a regional vice president of Lithia Motors, No.10 on the WardsAuto Megadealer 100.