"Put yourself in a position, treat people right, and maintain your reputation. You never know what opportunities will come from that."
When Bruce Piefke took over a monthly Atlanta car show from Auto Trader magazine it was generating more in expenses than revenue. In three years Bruce grew Caffeine & Octane from 3,000 to a record 20,000 attendees in a month. He signed on some big sponsors and spun off a hit tv show.
Transcriptions are produced by AI as well as humans and may contain errors.
Glen Sanders (GS): Today’s guest is also a client. Bruce Piefke and I met many years ago in the business of outdoor movies. Him in Atlanta, me in New York City. Today you’ll find my mobile jumbotron at a few of Bruce’s events. He’s has always been successful with securing sponsors for events and I have learned a great deal from him over the years. Which is why I thought Bruce would be a perfect guest for Main Street Hustle.
When Bruce Piefke took over a monthly Atlanta car show from Auto Trader magazine it was generating more in expenses than revenue. In three years Bruce grew Caffeine & Octane from 3,000 to a record 20,000 attendees in a month. He signed on some big sponsors and spun off a hit tv show.
I caught up with Bruce at an annual event he hosts at the beach in Jekkyl Island, GA.
Bruce Piefke (BP): It was really just fate, luck, whatever you want to call it. But I had a relationship with the Georgia World Congress Center. I had done events there for many, many years. Autotrader, who owned Caffeine and Octane at the time.
GS: So they were producing the event.
BP: Correct. They were producing the event, and they had an idea that they wanted to do something indoors at the Georgia World Congress Center. They were trying to figure out how to monetize it. They happened to meet the general manager of the Georgia World Congress Center, just a casual introduction from the sales manager. He said to them, "Listen. Sounds like a great idea, but you need to meet this guy, Bruce [inaudible 00:00:36]. He's the event guy in town and I suggest you talk to him, and he can really help you."
GS: Because they didn't have an event producer?
BP: They didn't have anything in-house, and that was really my business model, was to help mostly media companies at that time to develop events and then manage them for them. Media, they like to create more opportunities, but they don't want to hire people to do it. So it was just kind of the right place, right time, great relationship with this guy for 20 years. That led to them hiring me as a consultant.
GS: This whole opportunity came to you just because you had a contact and a reputation, and you knew some people.
BP: Exactly. I mean, this was not any part of my life plan or business plan. It was just the value of relationships. I tell people that all the time. I preach it to my kids. Don't worry so much about the future, because you really have no freaking idea what's going to happen. You know? But put yourself in a position, treat people right, and maintain your reputation. You never know what opportunities will come from that.
GS: Well, what makes your event different than all these other ones?
BP: By the time I became involved, the event was pretty mature. It was about eight years old, and I just saw certain things, logistically, just as an event producer that could be done just to improve the experience. Improve the experience for people bringing cars, improve the experience for people coming to look at them. So, I implemented those, made it more comfortable, made it safer and then really set out to figure out: How do you monetize something where there is no admission charge; no charge to the guys bringing cars, and it's known as this big fun, free event?
My expertise for 20 years had been in creating value for sponsors. So trying to figure out what would be valuable to a sponsor, obviously, the automotive space is a huge space. Billions and billions of dollars are spent advertising automobiles. Working on that combination of making it a better event, making sure it was going to have a long lifespan, and then figuring out how their plan was to create a bigger footprint nationally.
GS: For Autotrader. They wanted to have them all over the country.
BP: Exactly. They wanted to visit, and we spent a good bit of time visiting other cars and coffee events, and talking to them about what a conversion to a Caffeine and Octane would involve, and what would the benefits to them be; and what would the benefits to us be?
GS: How did that go over with other-
BP: It was pretty well received. Again, every cars and coffee out there were guys that were just car guys. Typically, like anything, they were very excited when they first started it, and then after about event number 27, they're like, "What the heck? Why am I getting up early on Sunday morning? I like going to these things more than I like running these things." So we were trying to create a model where they would actually make money off of it; so that interests them.
Autotrader was also thinking that they might buy out some of these guys, so they were interested in that too.
GS: Then they were materialized?
BP: No. I mean, Autotrader, they had an IPO in the works. Understand, IPOs ... You know, you're trying to tell a story and the story included basically taking over the car show world. So when the IPO didn't really get the momentum that it needed, they pulled back, a new CEO came in. The founder that was very entrepreneurial, he left the company. So it was just a different culture, but then it really took them a year to figure out that they probably shouldn't be paying me anymore.
GS: So they were just going to just stop the thing?
BP: Yeah. Honestly, they didn't want to be known as the guys that ended Caffeine and Octane. That was their worst nightmare, to be these car guys; they're the influencers in the market. They're the uncle, the son, the brother that knows cars, so they influence a lot of purchases. So they didn't want to screw that up, but they didn't have anybody else interested in buying it because they really hadn't monetized it at that point. It still wasn't a business at that point.
I was the only potential purchaser of it, you know?
GS: Sure, so it sort of fell in your lap in that respect.
BP: Yeah, exactly. I had to think long and hard-
GS: Well, it sort of fell in your lap, but then again, you were in the right place. You positioned yourself to be in the right place at the right time.
BP: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I'm a big believer. You invest in relationships and you don't do it because you think there's something in it for you, but you never know. The more people out there in the world that are pulling for you and think of you that someone that is the right fit sometimes. It works out.
GS: Being on the front people's minds.
BP: Yes, absolutely, in a good way.
GS: In a good way, right. So you acquired it. Did you pay cash for it? Did you work out a deal?
BP: Yeah. It was ... I worked out a deal, it was ... Honestly, when they came to me and they said, "Bruce. We're thinking about getting out of the event business. Would you be interested in purchasing it?" My first reaction at that point was, "God. I've got so much other stuff going on." Actually, I had already started caffeine and exotics; which was the exotics exclusive event, and it was going really well. I had kind of a plan for that. Caffeine and Octane, I kind of watched it just be this unprofitable great event for two years, and I had plenty on my plate. So, I had to think long and hard. Did I want to take on another big project? And of course-
GS: And could you make money doing it?
BP: And could I make money doing it?
GS: If they weren't making money for two years, how were you going to make money?
BP: Right, exactly. I had an idea, but, again, it came down to: "Well, what do you want for it?" Well, the people that I worked with at Auto Trader were wonderful, but they were representing their company. Of course, they look at the bottom line and they think, "Well, what do we got invested into this thing? Okay, what do we have invested? Gee, we want to get back our money."
GS: Right, right.
BP: You know? Well, what they had-
GS: They're looking for their quick ROI.
BP: Yes, exactly. I looked at it. They'd invested in this digital board, they'd invested in this giant merchandise trailer.
GS: Oh, so there was some hardware. There were some assets involved.
BP: Yes, there were. There were some hard assets, since they had purchased it, that was part of their model. But I had-
GS: If you're going to sell a company, you're going to sell-
BP: 47 dozen shot glasses and all these other things-
GS: But if you're going to sell a company, you're going to sell a business, it's either a multiple of your profit or the value of the assets.
BP: Yes, yes. Exactly.
GS: So you went back to them and said, "Here's what I think the value of the assets."
BP: Yes, exactly. I wasn't taking advantage, but I knew I was the only potential buyer. I knew that they didn't want to be the people known as shutting down this amazing event that people loved, but I didn't need these assets to start it. Honestly, I could say, "Listen. I could go start my own Caffeine and Octane tomorrow."
GS: Sure, you're going to shut it down anyway.
BP: I need a tent and a table to sell T-shirts. I don't need a 45 thousand dollar trailer to sell T-shirts. The same thing, I don't need a digital board. I didn't really need those assets to create and event, but they were nice. So they threw a number at me and I just kind of like ... "Oh, well. That's not going to work. Thank you though."
Then they came back, and of course, it had eventually got to the: "Well Bruce, what do you think it's worth? What's it worth to you?" And I said, "Well, what it's worth to me?" Honestly, because I'm not that excited about it at that point; I added up what I thought I could sell their hard assets on Craigslist for. I thought, "Okay. What's my worst case scenario? What's somebody going to pay for a merchandise trailer? What's somebody going to pay for all this stuff?"
GS: Did you actually go and look up online to see if there were-
BP: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
GS: Merchandise trailers for sale?
BP: Yes. Yes, exactly. You can assume that stuff [inaudible 00:08:30] pretty fast. Especially when it's custom-built for you, and then they have this big dually pick-up truck. So that was pretty easy for me to estimate what it was worth. I just kind of added up all that stuff, took off 25%, assuming that there'd be some hassle involved in liquidating it all and said, "That's what I'm willing to pay." Not surprisingly, they said, "Okay."
GS: How far off was it from the number that they originally put out there?
BP: It was probably about ... I don't know, 300 thousand dollars.
BP: Because their investment included all their people, all their time, everything they had on the books as far as ... Because they had a big, long list of expenses, even what they'd been paying me for two years. I wasn't going to pay that back.
GS: It was probably cheaper to do that, even for them to spend any more time and labor on liquidating all the assets.
BP: Yeah. Exactly.
GS: But a community had been built up at this point.
BP: Yes. Yes, absolutely.
GS: So, you sort of got started with a running start on your own.
BP: Yes. Yes, absolutely.
GS: How many cars would show up? How many people would show up? How many ... What was the attendance like?
BP: On average back then, again, the other one thing that concerned me about the model was: There wasn't a lot of stability. Most cars and coffees are like this. They start off in a parking lot, or there's a coffee shop, or something like this. Then they grow organically, even before social media. Car guys are connected in other ways. They grow organically, and then eventually the landlord goes, "What the hell is this?"
GS: Too many people, there's people peeling out of the parking lot ...
BP: There's too many people. My [crosstalk 00:10:03] are complaining, and it's typically the nail salon or the boutique or something. The women's shoe store that complains, the guy's stores, they're happy. So they outgrow it, then they have to go find another spot. So now they're out there, trying to find another spot.
Well, in this case, there was a big office building. It was about a six story office building, and the guy that owned it was a car guy. He said, "Oh, hey. I have an office building. We can do it at my place."
GS: So you weren't doing it at shopping malls yet.
BP: No, not yet. It had bounced around. It had been at a high school for a while, it had been in a big strip center-
GS: And did it just grow organically?
BP: Yeah. It was a first come, first serve. So if you got there at 4:30 AM, you grabbed the best spot, and that would have been in the main lot with the office building in those days. Then, it just kind of grew from there. Then car clubs would come, you'd have 12, 15, 20 guys coming together. This was one of my issues of what I wanted to change, was you never knew what the show was really going to look like. You could have five car clubs that take over the whole thing.
GS: So did you make a concerted effort to grow the base as well? Or did you jump right into: How do I monetize this?
BP: Well, it was a combination. I knew I had to fix some things before I could monetize it, because that's where the value was going to come from after I fixed it. So it grew, and then we started spilling over into Home Depot, which became a problem, because Home Depot was open on Sunday morning. All these gardener people that were showing up at 8 AM to buy flowers in the spring did not like the sound of revving engines. So, it was constantly managing that relationship.
Anyways, this is what I was taking over. No lease, it was all a handshake, it was all, "Hey. We do this car show kind of thing." I thought, "Well golly." What if I buy this thing and then two weeks later, Home Depot says, "No. You can't park here anymore," or the office guy sells the building? And so sure enough, the price, like I said, I backed it in from: What can I sell this stuff for? I closed the deal and within two weeks, I get a notice from the guy that owns the office building that he sold the building and we're going to have to find a new home.
GS: Oh, geez.
BP: Yeah. I was like, "Okay. Well, I thought I was going to be looking for a new home anyway, but I wasn't thinking I had that short of a rope to work with." Because I had been in the event business. I had relationships with malls. Simon Malls in particular. I had done a bunch of events for them, and I started calling those people up.
Malls have issues about construction and other events and stuff like that, but in the end, I was fortunate, timing was right, and General Growth Properties owns a huge mall in Atlanta called: Perimeter Mall. So, I did one event at the old location, and then since then, it's been at Perimeter Mall, which has worked out great. They have over eight thousand surface parking spaces.
GS: And you filled them recently.
BP: Yes. Yes, we did. It really has.
GS: So it's come a long way. What was the attendance like when you first started working for Autotrader?
BP: You know, it's funny because, I mean everybody used to think, "Oh my god. This thing is unbelievable." Even when it was in the office building, but it was really a core of just automotive enthusiasts. I mean, these were people that were into their cars.
GS: What was the difference between the size then versus the size now?
BP: Oh, I'd say ... You know, three, four thousand people then?
GS: Okay, so it wasn't tiny.
BP: No, it was not tiny at that point. Like I said, it had grown.
GS: Right, so you've doubled it in size.
BP: Oh, more than doubled. The last attendance, people attending was probably about 20 thousand, and cars actually on-site; we filled about 8500 parking spaces.
GS: So your last Atlanta event had 20 thousand people show up on a Sunday? On a Sunday morning.
BP: Yes, yes. On a Sunday morning.
GS: For what, three hours?
BP: Yeah. Exactly. When I arrived at 5:15, there were probably 300 cars already there.
GS: So why do you think your event ... Why is Caffeine and Octane such a big turnout? What makes it different than all those other smaller shows?
BP: Well, all these other ones, at least every one that I've ever met, they're all guys that ... They might be a computer programmer, or they might be a mechanic. They have some reason they're car enthusiasts.
GS: Yeah, but if they're-
BP: But they're not event producers.
GS: But if they're in the right market, wouldn't that grow organically? Or they're not marketing it?
BP: So what happens is, they grow organically because they've got a good deal or then, it grows too big and then they get thrown out. Then, they grow tired of it. It's work, they're not making any money.
GS: They're not making any money.
BP: Now the police, they've got to hire police to manage it. It's just ... You know.
GS: So let's talk about making money. What are your revenue streams?
BP: So revenue, again, in those days ... I mean, even Autotrader was selling sponsorships or vendor space for 100 dollars a month. That wasn't even enough, like I said, to cover the police. I knew I needed to create more value than just the value of being in front of these people for three, four hours. I really went to work on the social media side of the business. I needed to be able to talk to sponsors in a sense of, "Yes. We have this incredible event once a month, but we are in touch with these people every day, every month."
They are the influencers. We have influence over the influencers.
GS: And how are you getting sponsors access to your community at this point, through social media? I mean, is it planned posts? Is it pictures with a car?
BP: Yeah. It's a delicate balance. The brand, for me, what I wanted Caffeine and Octane to represent was authenticity. I wanted it to be something that they are proud to associate with. So, I didn't want to over-sponsor it, but you have to think, in the automotive space; especially the obvious is car dealers. They have the most money. We know that they advertise. I'm a big believer in, "Don't try and reinvent the wheel, go where the money is." They're already advertising, they have budgets. Don't try and talk people into advertising that never advertise. I just had to convince them to shift some of their budget to this, away from traditional media.
GS: Did you package it? Did you say ... I mean, what does your sponsorship offer look like?
BP: I broke it down. Everybody likes to look at different levels. I tend to customize things once I know who the client is. So I had these different levels, you know, platinum, gold, silver. Then I had several just vendor-type levels, so that I had something for everybody's budget. But at the top level, it would determine how much signage they have the event, how many banners with their name on it; probably, most important to them, what the size of their footprint was. So, if you're a car dealer, do I get to bring out one car and show it off, or do I bring out ten cars and show them off?
Where within, kind of just like all real estate, it really is. I think of it ... I always think of events as just a big real estate development. I've got this piece of land, now I've got to put roads in it, and I've got it all-
GS: Sure, so do you concern yourself with traffic flow?
BP: Traffic flow.
GS: Traffic flow and pattern flow of the crowd?
BP: Exactly. So then, I can sell that. "Well, listen. If you're in this location, it's more valuable than being in that location up there on the backside of it." So I positioned all that so that the platinum sponsorship was the best of the best of everything. Then, on the social media side, I really had to go to work, because Autotrader hadn't really done anything. They had a Facebook page. They had Instagram.
GS: So you had very little online presence.
BP: Very little. Very little online presence at that point. The website really wasn't working very well, and they would post, "Hey. Don't forget. There's a show tomorrow." Then the day after the show, they'd post, "Hey, wasn't that a great show?"
GS: So, if I've got a small ... I'm in, let's say, South Florida or somewhere and I've got a small car show. I get a few hundred people to show up. I charge admission, maybe to the cars that come to show up, just to cover some of my basic costs. But I have dreams of growing it bigger. What's your advice to these car show owners out there who maybe have dreams of growing it?
BP: I would say, number one: You've got this great opportunity because you have all these people coming to you. What that is, is that's great content. Interesting content for people like them that are interested in cars. So, you need to figure out how you make the most of that unique opportunity you have with this content.
GS: When you say content-
BP: I mean, the fact that a guy shows up with a 500 thousand dollar car, or people show up and it's a father-son, and they have a story about how they built this car-
GS: It's a media friendly event.
BP: Yes, yes. Exactly. But the stories, it's the stories of the car. What always attracted it to me, because I, again, went at this as an event producer more than a car enthusiast; were the stories of the people.
This guy drove 200 miles last night to be at [inaudible 00:19:10] and Octane because this was his grandfather's pickup truck and as a tribute to his grandfather, he restored it. That was an interesting story, whether you're a car guy or not. That's great content for social media. That's what people want to hear about, that's what they want to see. So taking pictures of him, shooting a video of his car, talking to him; that created great content which then led to more traffic to the website.
GS: Once you have the traffic, once you are building the community to a certain size, now you've got something you can sell sponsors. So do you guarantee them at all, how many people are going to show up? Do you-
BP: I don't get into real specific guarantees like that, but what I will say-
GS: I mean, in the advertising world, it's cost per thousand, right?
GS: So they're either looking at say, "How much is this going to cost me to reach a thousand people?"
BP: Yes. I like packaging things. I don't like ala-carte types of stuff when it comes to sponsorships. So it's the overall value of how these things support each other. A combination of space at the event, combined with five posts on Facebook each month and three Instagram posts, and your logo on the website, and this many banners. I just kind of package it, and then talk about how many impressions overall I think that would generate. That comes to a common denominator, because the platinum, obviously, that number is going to be much bigger than the silver.
GS: Sure. If you've got no audience yet, and you're just building the community, how do you go and get sponsors? I mean, how do you approach? Now that you're a name, now that you've got a brand and you've got 20 thousand people showing up, I imagine sponsors are coming to you.
BP: Yes. It's a much different ... You know, there's that tipping point in any business, but yes.
GS: So in the early days, or if I'm one of these guys producing my own car show somewhere, how do I go get sponsored?
BP: What I would do, if I was starting one today, is one: Find a good location so that you know you have a lifespan there, because location is going to dictate some of who is interested in the show. I was really fortunate that Perimeter Mall also turned out to be the next door neighbor to the relocation of Mercedes Benz, North America. So that made them more interested. Your location, you want to understand who is in your marketing area and assume that those are going to be some of your targets.
You want to be able to say to them, "Hey. Yeah, I'm going to be here for two years or three years." You can't say, "Hey. We'll do this month to month." Then, you really want to try and identify that initial sponsor that is a car enthusiast, somebody that may be has been coming to the event.
GS: So could be local dealers.
BP: They could be a local dealer, could be a [crosstalk 00:21:57] mod shop.
BP: It could be anything, as long as it's automotive related. You sit with them and talk with them about what your vision is, what you're going to create. Don't talk necessarily about what it is right now, but what you envision it's going to grow into and you're basically selling this as a ground-floor opportunity. "I need your help financially. I need your help through your social media outlet." We didn't talk about that, but it's really important that you get them engaged so they're reaching out to all of their followers, all of their connections to-
GS: Sure, you want to reach their audience, you want them to-
GS: So you're approaching them as though they're a partner to the show.
BP: Yes, exactly. I was fortunate enough to do that when I moved it. It wasn't part of my plan, because I didn't know they were moving there yet. But, with Mercedes Benz, they basically stepped up and said, "Okay Bruce. What do we need to invest to ensure that this thing is successful and that we understand that we're going to get more value in the long run?"
GS: Is sponsorship your biggest source of revenue?
BP: Now, yes. Sponsorship is still the biggest source of revenue, but we've developed other streams. That's the key. Once you're on solid footing and your social media grows, I mean, we went from-
GS: Is there a number for solid footing, do you think? Is there a ... I've got 10 thousand people on social media connected to us, or I've got four thousand people showing up at the events?
BP: You want to be able to show consistent numbers. You want to be able to deliver some results to your sponsors. But, again, you need to know how to work social media. You need to know how to leverage that good content. You need to be consistent about it, you need to post every day. Even if your number is not a big number, what you have as far as followers; you need to show a trajectory that it's growing every month.
GS: So that was real leverage for you, then, as you were able to develop a social media that gave you the leverage to grow the event.
BP: Absolutely. It created something, because it was hard to say, "I want five thousand dollars for a four hour event on a Sunday morning." I had to deliver more value than that, but I didn't want it to be ... I didn't want it to be stuff that necessarily costs us money. I didn't want to be saying, "I'm taking out a full page ad in this magazine, or I'm doing that and you get your logo on that." You know, I wanted to do it through social media, which is ... You had the advantages. Car dealers, especially, struggle with social media. Who follows a car dealer? Who wants to find out that there's a new lease program?
GS: So you're giving them an opportunity to tell the stories.
BP: Yes. I'm exposing their brand to a very important group of influencers, and I'm doing it in a way that it's interesting, that they can't do. They're never going to attract a 100 thousand followers.
GS: So what are your other revenue streams? In order of biggest to last?
BP: Sure. I'd say next, right now, would be merchandise. I knew that if I could develop a brand, that car guys love T-shirts. They love hats, they'll buy multiples of them-
GS: So you create special designs.
BP: Yes. It was all part of what the image is.
GS: You're not just putting the logo on there. You've got custom-designed T-shirts.
BP: Correct. I ... Again, fortunate, knew some people that were in that business that designed merchandise for Universal Studios and other television programs and things like that. I wanted it to just be a look and a feel that represented what I thought the brand was, this lifestyle, this love of cars. I really modeled it after so many brands that were out there, that I felt like didn't have near the authenticity that I had.
Things like Salt Life, things like No Fear. No Fear, huge brand. It really represented surfers. How many of us grabbed a surfboard?
GS: But again, what I think is attractive to people about your merchandise is that it's not just a logo. I mean, you're buying a logo, you're a part of something. It identifies you with the community, but there's a design there that's not just the logo.
GS: Because the logo is some nice type.
BP: Yeah, exactly. It's how you use the logo, it's how you just represent the brand or the lifestyle. I say it's the lifestyle, just like surfing is a lifestyle, or living at the beach is a lifestyle. There's a million different ways to represent that, that are cool. And that's what we strive for.
GS: What's next after merchandise?
BP: After merchandising ... Well now, we've kind of entered this whole new realm, because we have a TV deal with NBC Sports.
GS: How did the TV opportunity present itself?
BP: Well, the TV, it just kind of grew out of things that I was learning along the way. The value of this content, the videos that we started producing, the content that we started putting out, the stories that we were telling; was getting more and more traction. I was watching, I think, early on, Jay Leno launched his show that was successful. Of course, the Top Gear guys in Britain had this hugely successful show. To me, it was just, really, it wasn't anything elaborate. It was just car guys showing what they do, and I felt like I had this great opportunity to capture some of that.
I had this one video that I just thought was magic, we did it on a guy named Chuck Beck, who is a legendary car builder. We showed him just being Chuck Beck-
GS: This is just the video you put online.
BP: Yeah, this was just a video we put online. It got great traction, and it kind of became my audition tape. I happened to ... I was at the SEMA convention, which is the world's largest automotive convention in Las Vegas. I had this idea for a television show, but I didn't really know where to go with it.
GS: You didn't have a producer in the family? BP: Not exactly.
GS: You didn't know anybody?
BP: All I heard was: Just like everybody's got-
GS: Everybody wants to make a TV show.
BP: Exactly. You've got to stand in line at some convention and pitch some guy in three minutes. I just happened to walk up on a booth that was NBC Sports, and I just told them. I said, "Hey. I've got an idea for a TV show." Honestly, I thought I was talking to the people that had been hired to work in the booth for the convention. I was just trying to get a name.
GS: Sure, some locals that they had just taken, making sure that they got your card.
BP: I said ... In my mind, at that point, I'm thinking, "It'd be cool to be on after Jay Leno's show. That would be a good spot." So I walk up, and I say, "Hey. Do you have a contact at Jay Leno or do you have a contact at ..." I think he's on CNBC or something. They said, "Yeah, we might. What do you got?" That was my opening to give them my pitch and tell them the quick Caffeine and Octane story, what I wanted to do.
They said, "That's interesting. Call me next week." The guy handed me his card. I looked at his card, and it just happened to be that he was the head of new programming for NBC Sports. So I just, again, right place, right time. But my determination put me in that position.
GS: Well, and I think that's key. There's nothing in a part of your story that suggests it was a given. You've had to go out and work it. I've seen you work when it comes to getting sponsors, and I think that's where most people hesitate. That's where they have the most struggle, is walking in the door and asking for business.
BP: Exactly. It's a different time. People, again, if you don't have the experience. I've watched it change over time, and what I sell that I think is so valuable, I think that there are a lot of advertisers, sponsors, looking for this; is this kind of fully integrated program. I give them exposure to their customers in a live environment. There aren't that many opportunities to do that anymore.
Then, it's also to this group of influencers, which I promote, of how many people of their families and friends that they influence what kind of tires they buy, what kind of car they buy, what color they paint it. So I just keep growing the value by reaching these people in a number of different ways. So we have a live event, then we have, of course, the website. We have all the social media tools from Twitter and Instagram, and of course, Facebook. All of those appeal to different age groups and different demographics.
GS: And now the TV show.
BP: Yeah, and now the television show, which is mass-media. It's still traditional television, and people want to act like, "It's going away." It is changing, but people are always looking for good content. To reach 85 million households and then be able to support it through social media and to have a live event that gives it real credibility; then I had something truly unique to offer advertisers, sponsors.
GS: Is Caffeine and Octane profitable now?
BP: Yes. Caffeine and Octane has really always been profitable. It was more-
GS: But it wasn't when Autotrader was-
BP: Oh, yeah. Not when I bought it, correct. But since-
GS: If it was, you would have paid a lot more for it.
BP: Yes. I'm thankful that they didn't know how to make money out of it, I guess. I really thought I just had a good event that I could monetize. Now, it's become something much, much, much bigger than really even I imagined at that point.
GS: Do you have a full-time staff running it?
BP: I have full-time staff, but again, my business model personally was always to know experts and be able to hire experts when you need them, but to not have lots of people sitting around the office.
GS: Right, so you're not producing it. You've got a producer for the television show.
BP: Correct. Yes. Again, fortunate to have found an executive producer who had produced for the Velocity Channel, had been producing for 25 years; recommended to me by a friend, then someone else told me about him. He just happened to be between gigs. The biggest thing that I learned about network television is: You have to have a great executive producer. I mean, he's the guy that really makes it happen.
GS: How has the television show influenced your business?
BP: It just opened up new doors. It made it ... Just saying that you have a television program gives you a new level of credibility with people when you're trying to reach, trying to get in to talk to Porsche or Mercedes, or the big corporate guys. It gives you more access. It really adds to that value, because you do have hard numbers.
I can say, "Nine million people watched my TV show last year."
GS: It also adds a lot to your event that you've got your own homegrown celebrities that are at your event. I just noticed, walking around the last two days that people want to meet them. People follow them there, it's exciting to have these celebrities at your event.
BP: It absolutely is. They benefit, we benefit, and it creates ... Again, more great content when you have people like that, that are promoting your brand. That's really what it's about now. For me, it's a brand that I'm trying to just kind of keep pushing.
GS: Is the television show profitable on itself? Or is it feeding the greater brand?
BP: It's an interesting model on the television. The deal that I struck, the typical deal for most programming, I guess is that the network has a lot of control and they dictate the flow of the show and what's in the show. I wanted to own the TV show, because, again, I knew it was my brand and I knew it was an important piece. So I own the show and then I strike a deal with NBC Sports, relative to what they get out of it and what I get out of it.
GS: So they can air it a certain amount of times.
BP: Yes, correct.
GS: And you can still sell it elsewhere, so you can sell overseas rights or ...
BP: Exactly, which I have done. They get a great program, and a great program is important to them as a lead-in for other programming that they own and they also ... We share the spot time. They're really good at selling 30-second spots. What I wanted to have control over was the content within the show. I didn't want any fake drama, I didn't want a bunch of ... My brand is authentic, so I wanted the TV show to be authentic.
GS: You didn't want to be the 'Original Car Shows of Atlanta' like the 'Housewives of Atlanta'.
BP: Right, exactly. I did not want that made up drama.
GS: And you sell the advertising on the show as well?
BP: Yeah, so I own the integrated advertising rights, which I think is more valuable, again, because of how the model is changing in broadcast and TV. We watch a lot of stuff on Netflix, we watch it online. We don't like the traditional 30-second spot. So, in our shows, we're able to integrate those sponsors into the show in a way that is enjoyable for the viewer and at the same time, very valuable to the sponsor.
An example being: We've produced 15 original episodes, they've aired over 180 times, and so if you're integrated into the show, obviously ...
GS: You're getting exposure every time it airs.
BP: Every single time. Now, I've signed a deal with NBC Universal. We're delivering the show worldwide. So, if you're in that show, you're reaching a worldwide audience.
GS: So now you're adding that to the overall sponsor package. So that's part of, again, your package. Now you've got your uber-platinum level, where you're selling the presence at the show, but also, "Here's your presence in the television show."
BP: Exactly. That's important, because I can offer the guy that's selling something just in Atlanta. I've got something for him to just come to the show, up to ... I can sell something to Michelin Tires, who has a worldwide audience because I'm reaching millions of people around the globe. They're all car enthusiasts. They're all influencers that I'm reaching, so that helps too.
GS: Are you, Bruce, making money on this thing?
BP: Yes. I am, thank goodness.
GS: Are you paying yourself a salary?
BP: I'm working. I'm always striving for something bigger.
GS: You've got multiple businesses. So do you need the other businesses, or could you survive well enough with just Caffeine and Octane?
BP: There's always ... There's a comfort level as an entrepreneur to know that you have more than putting all your eggs in one basket. You've got multiple ways that you can earn money. So I'm comfortable with that, and that makes me hesitant to unload some of the other things.
GS: But it's a lot of work. BP: It's a lot of work. It's a lot of work, yes.
GS: If you didn't have those things, Caffeine and Octane is providing you a nice living, or is it-
BP: Yeah. Yeah, it is. It absolutely is.
GS: You could do it on its own without the other businesses.
BP: Exactly. The potential here, honestly, it's gone beyond what the whole worldwide broadcast rights. What's happening in television, there's such a demand for good content. Think of how many different platforms there are now. It's not just three major networks.
GS: It's not just television. It's not just broadcast, right?
BP: Yes. It's across Netflix; Google is jumping in, Apple is jumping in, Hulu. All these guys. Yeah, they've got 24 hours a day that they need to fill with something. So if you're a content creator, you have a real asset there. You just need to know how to get it to that kind of broadcast quality.
GS: Sure. So you're creating content across all platforms. You're creating content for social, you're creating content for the television show. You're taking the same stuff that the crew shoots and repurposing it for other things?
BP: Yes. Definitely for social media. One of the things that happens is: We're shooting a TV show this weekend. We will shoot eight hours of content to produce 22 minutes of broadcast quality television. That means, obviously, we have seven hours and 40 minutes of other content that we can go through to produce for social media.
GS: So in your deal, you own that content.
BP: Yes, correct. That's what was so important.
GS: Final question. Do you see yourself more as an entrepreneur or as an event producer?
BP: Probably more as an entrepreneur, because what I enjoy the most is creating; whether it's a car show, which I didn't envision having anything to do with cars three years ago, and I've been at this for 25 years. So to me, it's the thrill of that creating and trying things, seeing what works and what doesn't work. I'm just always pushing really, for that next level. Here I am, three years ago, we were talking about, "Oh, I've got this little car show. How do we make money off of it?" Now, we're talking about worldwide broadcast rights with NBC Universal. So, we'll see where it goes.
GS: Bruce’s biggest challenge was how to monetize Caffeine and Octane while keeping the show free to the public. Success in marketing today is in building a community. Break through your own income barriers by approaching potential sponsors as strategic partners rather than purchasers of a basic sponsor package. Look for unique ways to provide access to your community that aligns with a sponsor’s business goals. Show them how your supporters can become their supporters.