A Boy’s Birthday Wish

How an Arkansas dealership made birthday dreams come true
by Kristen Orsborn
Sept/Oct 2018
A Boy’s Birthday Wish
Thumbs Up
Ed Laukes, group vice president of Toyota Division marketing, helps Holden Monson celebrate his sixth birthday at Steve Landers Toyota of Northwest Arkansas.
Ask a little boy what kind of birthday party he wants, and you’ll get the usual requests: Spiderman. The Avengers. Maybe Pokémon.

At least, that’s what Travis Monson was expecting.

The Arkansas father of two was planning a birthday party for his son, Holden, and wanted some ideas.

“Sometimes he’s really into Batman, and other times he’s really into Ninja Turtles,” Monson says. “So that’s what I was prepared for. And then he says ‘Dad, I want a Toyota birthday party.’ And I was like… huh?”

To understand how Holden could dream up a Toyota birthday experience – you just need to look in the family’s driveway. They’ve been driving Toyotas for decades.  

Brand Loyalty

“It started when I was young,” Monson says. “I was six when I saw Marty McFly’s Tacoma in Back to the Future. And I wanted one. Then later, my dad started working for a dealership. I eventually got a job handling dealer trades, and I got to drive them all.”

Make a Wish
Holden blows out the candles on his birthday cake, topped with a miniature FJ Cruiser.

He and his wife have been loyal customers ever since – owning Tacoma pickups, an FJ Cruiser and a RAV4 Monson’s wife eventually traded in so the family could buy another Tacoma. So when Monson needed a little help making his son’s birthday wish a reality, he knew just where to go: Steve Landers Toyota of Northwest Arkansas.

“Travis comes in all the time to look around, and his son comes with him as his little buddy,” says Toni Luetjen, the dealership’s director of marketing. “It’s so cute to see them in here. When Travis asked us to help host Holden’s birthday party, we wanted to pitch in however we could.”

The dealership’s management team arranged to keep the showroom open on a Sunday. You can’t have a birthday party without a little swag, so Monson emailed Toyota’s Customer Experience Center asking for help. That’s how word of Holden’s birthday wish reached the company’s Plano, Texas headquarters. 

Word Gets to the Top
“This is a story of an organic movement in this company – when things happen mysteriously that somehow get brought to the surface,” says Ed Laukes, group vice president of Toyota Division marketing.

“I got blind copied on an email response to the boy’s father. He was planning this party for his son, and no one had any party stuff – streamers, balloons, those kinds of things. I sent it over to our brand team and said, ‘We’ve got to do this. We need to do something for this dad.’”

His team delivered.

Days later, Monson received boxes full of goodies – shirts, stickers, hats – plenty of stuff to make sure every kid at Holden’s party went home with Toyota souvenirs.

Monson got creative with games, too. Guests played “pin the tire on the Toyota” and raced Hot Wheels. Kids had a chance to climb into the back of a Tacoma. And Holden’s birthday cake was even topped with a miniature FJ Cruiser.

For Laukes, the party was about much more than a little boy’s birthday. It was about a family’s trust.

“The dad is so passionate,” says Laukes. “He loves our cars and trucks. And now his little boy is passionate about the brand. This is about the fact that we make great cars and trucks, and families trust us. They know we’re going to provide them something high quality, reliable and safe.”

The Big Reveal

Laukes traveled to Arkansas and personally paid a visit to the family, where he had one more surprise up his sleeve.

Remember the RAV4 Monson’s wife traded in so her husband could buy a new truck?

Laukes gifted the family a brand-new RAV4 to replace it.

“I was at a loss for words,” says Monson. “You never expect something like that to happen to you. It was overwhelming and emotional, because of my connection to Toyota. It’s strengthened my loyalty to the brand.”

So what’s next for Monson, ultimate Toyota fan?

“Now I’m considering getting a Toyota tattoo.”
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