Have you ever searched a travel site for advice on the best hotels? Or checked reviews for a restaurant? If so, you probably have more in common than you think with the thousands of Canadians who belong to a car club.
"People gravitate to blogs and consumer reviews," says Derek Serianni, administrator of the Toronto Subaru Club (TSC). "They're looking for personal experience."
Personal experience, exchanging honest opinions and connecting with like-minded individuals is what car clubs are all about. When our company introduced a new model in 2012, Serianni attended a launch event and he was one of the first to drive the sports coupe, reviewing it for the club and forum.
"There's a trust factor with the club," Serianni says. "They know me. I approach a vehicle as an average person with the same attitude and interests as them."
But car clubs in Canada go beyond news and reviews. The TSC site has its share of product news and classifieds on the forum, but it's not all tech talk. Active sections include discussions on jobs, music, food and drink, sports and entertainment.
"There's a social element," Serianni says. "I've met my closest friends through the club … We're very much like a family. If someone in the club has a flat tire on the 401 (in Toronto), it'll be posted on the forum and someone else will write, 'Where are you? I'll come and get you.' We can count on each other for help."
Car clubs cultivate a sense of belonging and common ground. In the past, they might have been limited by geographic constraints in terms of the ability of members to attend meets. The rise of the web has propelled the growth of this enthusiast culture by removing those limits. Communities can extend far beyond their core, welcoming visitors from all over the world.
On average, the TSC site's monthly traffic reaches 126,000 page views, with roughly 60,000 unique visits. The top four participating countries are Canada, the United States, Australia and Britain. It's moderated by a small group of members who volunteer their time to oversee the forum.
The TSC took shape and emerged from very humble beginnings. Two individuals formed the 2.5RS Club of Toronto back in 1998, as a way for local owners to chat, socialize and share technical knowledge. It was renamed the TSC in 2000, and it has continued to grow, becoming the largest enthusiast club of its kind in Canada, with more than 8,000 members.
Part of the club's early success resulted from hosting and creating new regional forums to grow its geographical reach from London, Ont., to Sudbury, Ont., and most places in between. These pockets of members are part of the big picture, but they are also able to discuss meets and events specific to their regions.
While other clubs remain very virtual, the TSC prides itself on being a social group that values getting together with six major events every year.
As an example, the annual TSC Hyper Meeting started in a parking lot with a handful of people, but it has become the club's biggest annual event and the largest of its kind in Canada. Six hundred enthusiasts got together last August, and in addition to the family friendly social nature of the meet, the event also raises funds for Ronald McDonald House Toronto.
Last year, the TSC raised $15,000 for the House, an amount matched by our company for a total donation of $30,000.
"Our members feel good about the culture of the club," Serianni says. "It's nice to be part of a group that likes to do nice things for others."
That's the thing about finding some common ground – it opens up possibilities.
Ted Lalka is vice-president of marketing and product planning at Subaru Canada Inc.
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