Bonfires, s’mores, archery lessons, canoe trips, karaoke. These are not normal features of an automotive leadership conference.

But they are some of the out-of-the-box experiences that an attendee at the DealerKnows Summer Camp (DKSC) can expect.

We all know that conferences are valuable to get people together, share ideas, network, learn, make deals, close deals and generally create business relationships. But we also know that most conferences are held in poorly lit, windowless rooms at over-air-conditioned business hotels. Coffee is needed to adjust to new time zones and early sessions. Heavy meals and watered-down drinks are the proverbial bonding time.

And, to top it all off, some of the presentations are nothing more than very thinly veiled sales pitches.

Enter Joe Webb and Bill Playford.

If you know these guys, you know that their MO is to challenge ideas and offer solutions that may be outside the box. They have a successful track record helping dealerships improve their operations using that very same set of thinking.

So, when they decided to create their own event, they followed their instincts. Why Vegas? Why a hotel?  Why not immerse dealers and sponsors in a completely natural environment where they are unfettered by corporate attire, protocol, booths and other box-like experiences.

Why not gather in a place where creativity will take root and attendees can think clearly?

Thus, the DealersKnows Summer Camp was born.

They held their initial event last June, and it was a success. This year’s event will be held May 7-9 at Camp Blue Ridge in Clayton, Ga.

This event is about 180 degrees away from a traditional conference — and the attendees love it so much, they are coming back.  What are the main selling points?  Check out what some of last year’s attendees say.

What’s so special about this event?

“There is real joy in PowerPoint-free learning. The best presenters at DKSC shared their knowledge with genuine passion. It was plain speaking for plain understanding,” said Bryan Armstrong, executive director of e-Commerce at VW Southtowne, VW Lee’s Summit, VW Cypress, VW of Clear Lake

“Incredible experiential learning. It was the antithesis of the sometimes mind-numbing traditional conference,” said Michael Spiegl, dealer principal of Toyota of Ann Arbor and Volkswagen of Ann Arbor

“It’s more like a retreat than a conference. The way the learning sessions were separated with unique activities provided head space for us to really consider what we learned,” said Dave Spannhake, founder and CEO of Reunion Marketing

“The non-learning activities were immersive and collaborative. Nice mental break during the day to provide relationship-building and a valuable counterpoint to the learning sessions,” said Adam Denault, eCommerce director of Mercedes-Benz & INFINITI of Birmingham

“The intentional and interesting breaks between sessions helped everyone keep their mind clear. Additionally, there was an element of teamwork in the events that helped people get to know each other without the pressure of a conference setting. Truly, a non-conference but with a high-level of learning,” said Brandon Murphy, director of business development and major accounts at ActivEngage.

When asked if the event provides value, Spannhake and Spiegl offered their perspectives.

“Absolutely. I had some of the best, most productive conversations with both dealers and sponsor colleagues at this event. This is the kind of event that truly builds community among business partners,” Spannhake said.

Spiegl added, “The most valuable part of the event was the format. It led to learning, not just inside the sessions, but also at the campfire at night. By doing activities with others that led to personal and professional conversations, we fostered relationships you can’t develop otherwise.”

Armstrong described the results gained from the event.

“It was at this conference that I was able to really learn about one of the sponsors’ businesses,” Armstrong said. “I knew them from other events, but this conference was relaxed, and I was able to ask all of the questions. As a result, I discovered they could help me in our dealerships. I signed them up the next week.”

Spiegl and Spannhake chimed in again, too.

“I signed two new vendors and came home with several great ideas that I could actually implement in my dealerships,” Spiegl said.

“We achieved an ROI on our investment before leaving the event,” Spannhake added.

Who should attend this event? Here’s how Denault, Armstrong and Murphy addressed that question.

“The range of topics at the event was universal. Any internet manager would benefit. Marketing and BDC managers would also benefit. The leadership sessions and keynotes are also important for general managers,” Denault said.

“There are classes for everyone.  Service, retention, search… lots of tracks for everyone there. Bare minimum, a GM should go. It will take them out of their comfort zone, but that’s the beauty of it,” Armstrong said.

And Murphy added, “Sponsors can absolutely expect to receive a positive ROI from investing in this event if they approach it with transparency and collaboration. There was ample opportunity for us to discuss business partnerships with both dealers and fellow sponsors.

According to Denault, it was a “winning combination of everything.”  There are no fixed rules – if you want to stay in a boutique hotel, there’s one onsite. If you want to stay in a cabin, you can do that, too.

The goal is about gathering to learn and lead in a beautiful, nurturing environment. If you’re looking for a comfortable, power-point free environment in which to truly get to know marketing service and technology providers as well as other dealers, then you need to check out the DealerKnows Summer Camp.

Registration is available online at

Jennifer Sanford is an experienced SaaS marketing leader passionate about the retail automotive experience. Jennifer is the founder of Sanford Marketing Group, an agency specializing in B2B marketing strategy and project management. Jennifer loves a good conference. The best results are always in building relationships — old and new.