What’s in store for dealers?
When it comes to choosing a dealer to do business with the overall look and feel of the showroom is an important deciding factor for fleet managers. With just about every volume and premium brand targeting local fleet customers as an area of growth, car manufacturers are looking at new ways of presenting their brands in the best possible light and engaging with customers on the showroom floor.
The car manufacturers have a dilemma. With consumers used to shopping in Apple Stores, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, expectations are higher than ever before when it comes to what to expect in the form of customer care. The carmakers have latched onto this and you will be hard pressed to find a CEO who doesn't want their brand presented in the same way as this group of high street heroes.
Indeed the word 'dealer' has been pretty much expunged from their lexicons and replaced with the more progressive 'retailer, while showrooms have become 'stores' or 'centres'.
Traditionally the best car retailers, in terms of presentation and customer care, were always the premium brands. They had the biggest and smartest premises in the best locations and their sales staff wore the sharpest suits. Furthermore, their customers had high expectations when it came to customer service and expected a degree of genuflecting in proportion to the amount they were spending. However, that distinction has pretty much disappeared as the budget and mainstream players have upped their game to also win the hearts and minds of prospective customers. Even though Auto Trader recently estimated that the average car buyer only makes 2.4 showroom visits before making a purchase, the OEMs realise that scrimping on the fixtures, fittings and glass plate windows is not the way to make the brand appealing.
Consequently a number of brands are rolling out new corporate identity programmes. For OEMs this is usually a head office-prompted move, whether that be in the US, Europe, Japan or Korea. For dealers it means significant investment in overhauling their existing premises or relocating to bigger sites and starting from scratch.
So who's doing what? Hyundai has gone for a stylish beige for its dealer frontages, whilst Volvo, now under Chinese ownership, has rediscovered its Swedish roots and embraced pine. Meanwhile Renault has rediscovered its mojo with its neatly themed open plan Renault Store showroom look which highlights its expanded car and van line-ups, motorsport heritage, EVs and, of course, the emergent Dacia brand.
While Ford has recently introduced a FordStore for its metropolitan centres which will display the entire car and commercial ranges, as well as the Mustang muscle car and new top-end Vignale sub-brand.
One of the most impressive showroom turnarounds though belongs to Kia. With UK sales having doubled in the last 10 years the brand has worked hard to establish itself as a serious contender in both the retail and fleet markets. Spurred on by the confidence borne from having new and desirable products already in its showrooms and more to come in the pipeline, it took the decision to totally revamp its fledgling dealer network whilst also introducing the eye catching Red Box design across 30 flagship sites.
Its most prominent showroom though opens its doors at the end of August. Located on London's Great West Road, on the elevated section of the M4, it’s a high profile stretch of car retailing real estate favoured by Mercedes-Benz and Audi who both have competing flagship sites close by.
The multi-million pound four-storey 41,000 sq ft dealership has been designed to showcase Kia’s line-up to the 75,000 people that are estimated to pass by every day. It's an impressive set up which will be run by the Norton Way dealer group and trade as GWR Kia, however the top floor will act as a showcase for Kia's growing line-up with a glass façade, angled towards the motorway.
The dealership will be kitted out with interactive technologies with 3D headsets for waiting customers and an iPad customer experience area. The site will also operate a 40-seater café, which will also be open to the public, featuring a departure lounge style display screen notifying service customers when their vehicle are ready.
So, next time you visit a car showroom don't be surprised if you're approached by a guru, rather than a salesman, and are offered a skinny latte in a china cup. Things are changing in car retailing and fleet customers should expect improved levels of customer service in well appointed surroundings.