What comes to mind when you hear that phrase? To me, I think of pesky salesmen, cheap linoleum flooring, fluorescent lighting, and the smell of rubber. And everybody has a story about the painful process of buying a car. I can't imagine being the only person to have the same feelings to the typical car dealerships as I do. That's part of the reason why I was so confused when Chevrolet came out with an ad campaign last year that was shot entirely inside a dealership.
In fact, several of the commercials in this campaign began with a faint loudspeaker of the receptionist calling in a salesperson from outside. The campaign did a great job of making you feel like you were there, including the throngs of lonely salespeople standing around. But is that really a good thing?
Even Toyota got in on the action recently, running their own campaign of commercials shot on the set of a car dealership.
I might be more attuned to the subpar experience of the stereotypical car dealership than most (since I seem to complain about more things than most), but there's something about a dealership that defies these norms that flips the typical visit to the car dealership around from being a dreaded experience to one that is looked forward to.
Tesla is one example of a company trying something different. Rather than building dealerships in normal places like auto centers, they've focused on being where you already go. Here in Orange County, Tesla has a store in Fashion Island, one of our upscale, outdoor shopping malls. They've got another dealership a few miles away on Pacific Coast Highway amidst other boutique shops. But even when you visit one of their locations, it doesn't feel like a car dealership. They've got one or two cars out on display, and you can't take them for a test drive. The purpose of these stores is to inform you about their vehicles and show you what's coming.
Of course, this model doesn't work for all car companies. Tesla (currently) offers two models and sells to a high end market. Car makers like Chevy have quite a few more cars than that.
But still, not all dealership experiences have to suck in the way that we are used to. The pictures below are of Newport Lexus in Newport Beach, CA.
Newport Lexus is my dealership of choice after I bought my Lexus. It feels nothing like a car dealership, despite having rows and rows of cars out front. When you walk inside, it feels like you're walking into the lobby of a 5-star hotel. The rest of the experience isn't far off from that. The retail areas and coffee shop and lounge make it a place you want to visit on a regular basis. The free car washes are nice, and I try to make it in at least once a week to enjoy this perk of getting my car serviced there.
But the beauty of Newport Lexus is more than just the nice building and the perks; it's the people. I have never met such friendly people who really get to know you. Because I visit once a week for my car wash, I've built up friendly relationships with many of the staff members who greet me by name when I arrive. And when it's time to get my car serviced, I look forward to the day I get to drive in and see everybody. And now I can't picture myself buying a car from anywhere else. They've succeeded because they've built a relationship with me and won my loyalty.
Everything about the experience at Newport Lexus is fantastic. When I go through my list of things I hate about the typical car dealership, I realize I find none of them at Newport Lexus, which makes me wonder, why do so many other dealerships not care about the experience of their customers? I think we are slowly seeing a trend toward offering perks at particular dealerships. Some now advertise free washes on weekends or free coffee when you stop by. But are these perks the tipping point to get people to come back?
As we see in nearly every industry, monumental improvements in the norm typically come from the top down. It makes sense why Tesla (as a company) and some other high end dealerships have radically changed the way they sell cars. I'm just looking forward to the day where linoleum floors, endless options packages and packs of salesmen with bad ties are a thing of the past.