The world of computers and automobiles is converging and BMW is responding with what it calls “Pop Up Stores” in selected urban malls, reports Automotive News. By doing so, it is taking a page out of Tesla’s sales approach.
Tesla started the trend of selling its cars direct to the public through dedicated stores located in high end malls. The Tesla stores are unabashedly modeled after Apple’s iconic sales outlets – clean, bright, cheerful environments where people can come in, feel the merchandise and get answers to their questions from product exerts trained to exude an extra helping of friendliness. It’s no wonder that car dealership associations are trying to shut Tesla stores down.
BMW is watching everything Tesla does very closely. It is also concerned because more of its customers are doing their shopping online instead of visiting traditional dealerships. Browsing the internet is all well and good, but every marketing type who has ever worked in the car business knows “The feel of the wheel seals the deal.” In other words, you have to get the customer into an actual car, so they can be wowed by that new car smell, the Top Gun style dashboard, the way cool touch screen/infotainment display and the feel of the plush leather seats. Do that and you are halfway to a sale.
BMW has formulated what it calls its “Future Retail” strategy which mandates a compete makeover for every dealership in the US. When done, the refit will have cost BMW dealers a cool half billion dollars. The showrooms take their design cues from the late German modernist architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The emphasis is on open space, lots of glass and natural light. The Pop Up Stores present customers with an array of neon lights, large flat screens for configuring cars, art from a local museum and a merchandise boutique.
Is Future Retail working? Oh, yeah. Late last year, BMW opened a Pop Up Store at a trendy mall in Costa Mesa, California. On its peak day, 2,400 people went through the store. In all, more than 100,000 people visited the store. Steve Rudkin, general manager of Irvine BMW in Irvine, Calif. — one of the first stores that participated — said the Pop Up Store helped his dealership set November and December sales records. The dealership featured a special-edition 5-series sedan during the Black Friday weekend in November, and “we sold 20-plus — we sold out of that car,” Rudkin said. “It was a great result and had a great impact on our business here.” That’s the kind of success any retailer craves.
Joe Laham, owner of BMW of Cape Cod in Hyannis, Mass., opened his new $10 million Future Retail dealership in August, and he told Automotive News that he expects to sell 500 new cars this year. His dealership sold a total of 90 the prior year. Laham says the overall ambiance of his dealership is “immaculate — they have to feel like they are walking into a luxury hotel.” Customers are served fruit-infused water from the Isetta Bar that BMW requires every new showroom to have. The flavor is changed every day. The air in the dealership exudes the Asian Gardens scent used at the Encore Hotel in Las Vegas..
The future of car sales is changing before our very eyes, and once again Elon Musk and Tesla Motors are on the cutting edge. One day perhaps we’ll look back and laugh at how long it took car buying to catch up with the rest of the digital world.