Derrick Hughes and his team will do whatever it takes to sell trucks and cars during the slow months of deer hunting season, so they’re giving away guns along with Bibles and flags at their Ford dealership in tiny Honea Path, S.C.
“It’s crazy,” Hughes told the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday. “We’ve had multiple people take advantage of the promotion. You don’t need to buy a $50,000 truck. It’s for anything on our lot, used or new. We’ve sold Ecosport, Escape, new F-150s, used F-250s, a couple Dodge trucks.”
The idea came from staff brainstorming how to generate shopper traffic during October and November, which are just crickets at the dealership, Hughes explained. Carolina Ford’s “God Guns and America!” campaign started Oct. 1 and runs through November.
Hughes, a 38-year-old hunter himself, said the Smith & Wesson AR rifle that’s included with any vehicle purchase, pending a background check, is great for shooting wild hogs, which infest the region and destroy property.
“We are not taking a political stance in any way, shape or form,” he told WYFF News 4, the NBC affiliate in Greenville earlier this week. “We are all country folk, God-fearing people. We are very patriotic people, believe in our country and salute our military.”
Since most hunters already own shotguns, and many others own pistols for self defense, the lightweight AR 99 rifle seemed like the next best idea. Please, Hughes noted, people need to understand that “AR does not stand for assault rifle.”
The latest gun giveaway comes nearly four months after a Ford dealer in Alabama said Ford asked him to end a shotgun giveaway after three people died during a shooting at a Ford dealership in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“So it’s done. They’ve ended our promotion. I’m very disappointed,” Colin Ward, general manager of Chatom Ford in Chatom, Alabama, said in June 2019. “Ford said we can fulfill our commitments to the customers that we’ve made up till now, but we have to cease it going forward.”
Chatom Ford’s advertising offered a shotgun, a Bible and an American flag with a car purchase. The offer drew hundreds of calls from across the country, including Michigan, from people wanting to buy cars to get the shotgun.
Since June, Americans have again debated gun policy as a result of mass shootings in Odessa, Texas, that left seven dead; Dayton, Ohio, with nine dead; and El Paso, Texas, with 22 people killed.
Ford headquarters has no plans to disrupt the South Carolina promotion, spokesman Said Deep said Wednesday.
“Our dealers are independent businesses. This is a local promotion, not something directed by Ford,” Deep said. “We understand customers are given gift certificates they can apply to a range of sporting goods. Obviously, promotions have to be lawful — as this one is.”
He said the Alabama dealer was not told by the company to stop that promotion.
When a vehicle purchase is made in South Carolina, buyers are given a voucher with background check paperwork to take to a sporting goods store in nearby Abbeville. If the consumer fails to pass the federal background check or chooses to buy something else, that voucher may be used on any item in the store.
While the Alabama gun promotion made national news, Hughes said word hadn’t reached Honea Path. And while the gun voucher valued at $400 seems to be generating interest, Hughes said he plans to switch to a promotion tied to a family friendly video game theme in December — along with Bibles and flags.
“October is a weird month in the car business. It’s like the calm-before-the-storm type month. You’ve got to have something going. October is the slowest and November is the second slowest,” Hughes said.
The promotion appeared to be working. A woman answering the phones at Carolina Ford on Wednesday said that the dealership was overwhelmed with calls, both positive and negative. The campaign has appealed to both men and women, ranging in age from 18 to 79.
“We’ve had some really excited women in here,” said the woman, who works as the dealership’s digital manager and asked that her name not be used. “A cute little nurse just bought a pretty preowned F-150. And she couldn’t wait to add another gun to her collection.”
Calls have come from Texas, Oregon, Missouri, Michigan and as far as Winnipeg, Manitoba. A man from California called to say he wished he could get to South Carolina for the deal and hoped Ford would run such a campaign nationwide.
Ford F-150 owner Mark Stevens of Jeddo, Michigan, an avid hunter, said hunters all over the country use the AR for coyotes, deer and prairie dogs. He includes an AR rifle in his gun collection.
“It’s so accurate,” Stevens told the Free Press. “I would buy an F-150 because I love it and I would buy a gun because, well, I want a gun. But they do all sorts of things to promote cars. Didn’t they used to give away turkeys at Thanksgiving back in the day?”
The AR rifle has grown in popularity because it’s versatile, Stevens said. “It’s just a handy rifle.”
The strategy seemed like a no-brainer for a car dealer the Deep South.
“I do want to be very clear that the dealership itself does not have guns in the backroom handing them out like free samples. The person that purchases the vehicle will, however, leave the dealership with their American flag and Bible in hand,” Hughes said. Incidentally, the business is at 103 Church St. in Honea Path.
“Also, the person that bought the vehicle has to be the one to fill out the paperwork and have a copy of a state ID and a copy of the bill of sale before they can leave with the gun. By doing this we make sure there isn’t any straw purchases of the weapon. Forxample, a father can’t give the voucher to his son to redeem. If the person does fail the background check they will be issued store credit to purchase whatever it is they want … new fishing tackle or maybe even a crossbow.”