By on December 18, 2017

Lincoln Experience Center OC

If affluent people like one thing, it’s large stores offering heaps of customer service and absolutely nothing to sell. You know the sort of shops I’m referencing. There’s a doorman, a leather couch, and someone who brings you coffee while you browse an inventory consisting of half-a-dozen ludicrously overpriced designer jackets.

A number of premium automotive brands have recently seized on this concept. There are already a handful of luxury brands with physical locations in cities harboring a wealth-intensive populace that offer an ambiance-intensive experience. Not to be outdone, Lincoln has taken that theory the full mile in Newport Beach, California.

While technically a dealership, the Lincoln Experience Center doesn’t sell anything. Instead, it provides patrons with a place to relax and muse about future ownership. There’s a cafe offering complementary coffee, tea, and infused water. Not thirsty? The site also has a “story wall” that provides a rotating collection of artifacts, art, and fashion that somehow relates to the brand. I even found out that they’ll wrap your holiday gifts on December 23rd if you’re in the area. But if you want to buy a car, you’ll have to look elsewhere. 

It sounds absolutely mental. However, associating a brand with an overwhelmingly positive experience is the most devious sales strategy in a luxury automaker’s toolbox. Whether you like Lincoln’s current lineup or not, the brand itself has undertaken quite the makeover — and it’s spilling over into dealerships. Cadillac entered into a similar endeavor (via Project Pinnacle) in an attempt to bring its own dealer network up to snuff.

Lincoln Experience Center OC

Granted, the Lincoln Experience Center is an extreme example of what a premium dealer experience could be, and won’t appeal to salt-of-the-earth types. But it isn’t really supposed to. Opened in July 2016, the site is situated in an outdoor shopping center near Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, and Whole Foods. The hope is that the brand can get prospective customers into the “store,” make them feel welcome, and ease them into customizing a Lincoln of their very own before recommending a local area dealer where they can pick it up.

Has it worked? Well, according to Automotive News, about 100,000 people have ventured into Lincoln’s 5,200-square-feet of paradise since it opened last year. Company heads feel that right by the beach in Orange County is the perfect location to familiarize the right kind of people with the Lincoln brand. However, the center claims to have delivered roughly 700 leads to dealerships thus far. Having never run an Experience Center ourselves, we’re not sure if that’s a good return on investment or not. But its performance didn’t stop Lincoln from opening up a second location in Frisco, Texas, last August.

Lincoln Experience Center DALLAS

“We’re in the process of building our brand,” Greg Wood, Lincoln’s North America sales and service manager, told Automotive News. “It allows us to get our product in front of clients that may not have experienced us. Being in the right place to have visibility for a product is critical.”

“Our vision for this is open, warm and personally crafted,” Wood continued. “We want people to roam around on their own and not feel pressure that somebody’s going to come talk to them. This is really about changing the mindset and making Lincoln relevant on their consideration list. It’s a very non-confrontational environment.”

In that regard, the Experience Center seems to be a success. In addition to serving as a third-party event space, Lincoln puts on events of its own and has a staff on hand with a background in hospitality — not sales.

“You can teach product knowledge,” Wood said. “What’s difficult to teach is the inherent understanding of hospitality. It’s knowing and understanding subtle elements of the client.”

[Images: Ford Motor Company]

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76 Comments on “Lincoln’s Latest Gambit: Stores for Selling the Brand, not Cars...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Lincoln Death Watch.

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      Yep.

      When you stop putting money into making your terrible appliances suck less and instead come up with a waiting room where you wait for nothing, it’s clear Ford has no intention of seeing Lincoln succeed.

      People can have the Lincoln Experience…..which amounts to a space where you go to have a glass of water and do nothing.

      Why not just set up shop at a nursing home?

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      I hope not. Their vehicles continue to improve and continue to be great bang for the buck when compared to the competition.

    • 0 avatar
      markmeup

      Yeah, Let’s do this, because the Soho Cadillac House space/mission experience has really put Cadillac Division back on the map for GM as Standard of the World.

      I get this whole, over the top New World culture/experience crap that’s infesting everything in it’s path today… but, my god, what about the product? seriously.

      • 0 avatar
        markmeup

        and, i’ll give you yes there has been some improvement lately with Lincoln. I for one am happy to see real names coming back and wish it could happen at Cadillac. but… the up-front cost let alone monthly nut to do these 2 places for Lincoln & Cadillac, why not put the $$ into vehicle development/design?

        How is a coffee shop and/or clothing-lifestyle accessories store with space to hang out better than moving iron and seeing tail-lights for a car company?

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Just how bad is the Lincoln dealership experience?

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      My uninformed guess is that it’s a mix of (in no particular order):
      – “small-town friendly” dealers that aren’t an unpleasant place to spend your money but that aren’t upscale
      – old-school shyster dealers who really damage the brand
      – proactive dealers who’ve bought in to the latest practices
      I’m extrapolating that from acquaintances’ experiences with Cadillac. Those who were treated well likely will cross-shop the American brands again. Winning people back is going to be a sloooow process for Detroit. I don’t envy the people at both Cadillac and Lincoln who are trying to move the brands back upscale.

      I’m kind of rooting for Lincoln, as I like the Continental’s styling (Jag-cribbed grille notwithstanding), and it garnered a fair amount of positive press upon release (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNweAW81UNA and http://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/a32538/first-drive-2017-lincoln-continental-the-return-flight/). It’s too bad 90%-plus of those I see are livery examples.

      • 0 avatar
        kurkosdr

        Who buys a Lincoln or Cadillac anyway? “I want a luxury car but with none of the reliability, style and good dealership experience that BMW offers”.

        Cadillac and Lincoln should have worked on their reliability and on establishing a “premium” network of dealerships with stict terms (and give better financing to them than other dealers) back when they had the chance.

        • 0 avatar
          Fred

          People who like Fords like Lincolns even more. Except for the price. Doesn’t seem to be the same for Cadillac. They attract well off young folks who can step up to luxury after he depreciation hit after a year or so. At least that’s what I can tell from my parking lot survey at work.

          • 0 avatar
            Mandalorian

            The sedans are bought by fleets and geriatrics, but the SUVs/Crossovers draw a decent crowd, especially the MKC and Navigators.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I would trust any product in the current Lincoln lineup to have better reliability than its BMW equivalent. (Not a high bar to clear, particularly for the bigger BMWs.)

        • 0 avatar
          01 Deville

          BMW reliability? LOL.

        • 0 avatar

          I would counter that both BMW and Mercedes have no small tarnish on their badges. They’re not the paragons of reliability they were 25 years ago.

          Cadillac and Lincoln have time at this point. But they have to deliver excellence at every turn in the minds of enough people to rebuild. And if in the process the 3-pointed star and roundel should rediscover what made them great in the first place, all bets are off.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Oh, it’s pretty bad.

      The local Lincoln dealership sold me a ’14 MKS in February of this year that was advertised as certified all over their site and also on Autotrader and Cars.com as certified, but wasn’t. After some arguments and an incriminating video, they finally agreed to certify it. They said it was a mistake on their website, and that since they had just purchased that particular Ford / Lincoln franchise, they weren’t yet able to certify Lincoln cars, but would certify mine as soon as Lincoln gave them the go-ahead…and they immortalized that promise in a WE OWE. In May, they supposedly went and certified it.

      The MKS was totaled on December 8th, a couple of weeks ago. I found out that they hadn’t actually certified it. What they had done was put sone powertrain warranty on it that ran concurrent to the factory warranty, which isn’t the same thing. After I went up there and confronted them, these were some of their responses:

      1. “You made the purchase at the Ford store, not the Lincoln store.”

      Oh, really? I distinctly remember negotiating the entire deal at the Lincoln side, and I was only shuffled over to the Ford side when we did the F&I, because they don’t do any of that at the Lincoln store. Besides, the entire premises is one big monolith, with both brands’ names in its title. Even the check for the car was made out to the Ford / Lincoln store. So I guess they only get to separate the two when it’s convenient.

      2. “Your final salesman was a Ford salesman, not a Lincoln salesman.”

      But the salesman on all the paperwork and even the WE OWE was a Lincoln salesman. The Lincoln manager who told me all of this, with a straight face, was actually the one who signed the documents.

      3. “We never could certify cars after selling them. It would have needed to have been distinguished as a certified car from the beginning.”

      I confirmed this when I called up Lincoln Customer Service; they were never supposed to be able to certify any car that had already been sold, or even offered for sale without certification. And yet, the dealership told me they would certify it after the fact, and even put it in a WE OWE.

      4. “The car was listed on the Ford site, not the Lincoln site.”

      Again, both stores kind of operate together. There’s one site for both brands, and thats the one they advertise. It’s also the one where I found the car.

      5. “Well, why didn’t you ask if it was certified before you bought it?”

      I didn’t think I had to ask. But that’s a moot point; they agreed to do it after the fact.

      And of course, Lincoln corporate doesn’t want to get involved.

      Because of this, coupled with that dealership’s flippant attitude and incompetent service department, I will never buy another Ford or Lincoln product. My insurance rental happens to be a Lincoln, too, by the way, a ’16 MKX. I was sorely tempted to burn it in effigy in the dealership’s parking lot.

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack7G

    700 leads can’t have been worth this investment. Plus they’re hemorrhaging free coffee, tea, and “infused water?” Do they at least make a few bucks selling Lincoln-logo ball caps to 70-something men with extra-chromed Mark LTs and bright green or blue bass boats?

    • 0 avatar
      Dilrod

      I keep wondering what it would be like to actually work in this place. What about looky loos who are just killing time and bring in their feral kids who drink up all the infused water and trash the joint? The crazies who just want to talk your ear off?

      What’s the main job? Cleaning at the end of the day? Do I get a cut of the action for referrals? Do I get cut if I don’t meet a quota of referrals?

  • avatar
    spookiness

    This isn’t a new idea really. Haven’t there been car showroom/cafés on the Champs Elysee in Paris for generations?

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      And isn’t this what most of Tesla’s public-facing stores are like?

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Posky

        Yep, and there is one just down the road from the California-based Lincoln Experience Center.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        “And isn’t this what most of Tesla’s public-facing stores are like?”

        Yes, but you’ve got to realize how different Tesla’s value proposition is.

        For those of us who are fans of Teslsa, we subscribe to the notion that the future is here but it isn’t evenly distributed yet. Buying a Tesla is getting an express ticket to the high-performance green future that we’ve been reading about in sci-fi novels our whole lives.

        And Lincoln? They add a little extra bling and a lot of extra $$$$ to the same dämn Fords I’ve been driving my whole life.

        If Lincoln becomes Ford’s EV-only brand, then they can expect to woo the Tesla crowd. (I suppose all luxury car buyers are conceited in some way, but I’m best qualified to explain my own conceit today. The other luxury brands aren’t catering to the sci-fi crowd the way Tesla is.)

        So, yes, the Lincoln store looks the same as the Tesla store on the surface. But the value proposition is so different that we’re just not going to see people lining up overnight outside the store for the next MK-Fusion.

    • 0 avatar
      ShoogyBee

      I don’t know how long those manufacturer-sponsored showrooms have existed in Paris for, but I recall seeing both Renault and Citroen showrooms on the Champs Elysee in 1992. To me it seemed like a good idea to increase visibility of the brand and product, as the showrooms were generating quite a bit of foot traffic.

      I remember seeing the Renault Safrane at the time (not exactly a memorable big car, but I think it was their new executive car), but I don’t remember much else.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        Toyota had a showplace on the Champs Elysee when I was in Paris many years ago. They had their F1 car and few other vehicles on display, maybe even a Celica rally car? It was a “brand” store for sure, selling various Toyota logo items. Never occurred to me it was designed to generate leads for a dealership, just assumed it was off loading coffee mugs and mouse pads.

        If Lincoln put a concept car or other “must see” vehicle like a historical racer or a full sized cut-away vehicle to see how it made in this mall setting then that might be interesting. But as described it seems kind of lame. What is going to draw me in? If all that is present is a vehicle I could see at a dealer down the street I’m going to keep walking.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    How do you “ease” someone into a Lincoln if you’re not expected to talk to them? Interesting that the Germans aren’t opening these; I guess they’re too busy selling cars.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      Stack ’em deep, sell ’em cheap. A whole parking lot of 320i’s and C250’s with free white paint, pleather, automatic transmissions, and 2.0 engines. And people lining up for cheap leases. It’s amazing to me that the German brands are as still as strong as they are.

    • 0 avatar
      sgtjmack

      Audi has been doing this for years, only they do it at their dealerships, as well as Infiniti and a lot of the Lexus and many high line luxury dealerships.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Allow me to provide an example:

      Many years ago I was a parts guy at a motorcycle shop. The owner was always pressuring us to leap upon any warm body who walked in the door and sell them something, with the inevitable outcome of them feeling uncomfortable and leaving as quickly as possible.

      I used a different approach. I’d greet the customer, and ask if there was anything I could help them find. And they would invariably decline, and start browsing the shelves. I’d find something that needed doing about 10 feet away, and ignore them. After a few minutes they’d have a question, look up, find me readily available, and ask. NOW, I can engage, talk to them without them feeling pressured, and generally sell them something besides what they came in for.

      It’s all about being invisible until they need you.

      • 0 avatar
        sgtjmack

        I actually proved that point to the General Manager at the first dealership informed for. They were on the old school, don’t let a customer go until a manager talks to them attitude. It tended to turn a lot of people off and they would not return. After seeing this and picking up on the clients body language, and listening to a lot of them tell me exactly that when they first encountered me, I figured out a new plan. Great them and act as a tour guide or host and allow them to walk and look about for a while, answering any question they may have. Then when they felt comfortable they would approach me and id usually make the deal. After I continued to sell over 20 cars each and every month, the management started to notice and changed a few things, and watched sales rise and return customers and referrals also increased. Oh, the simple act of treating people like you actually like them and respect them that turns into a sale. What a concept.

  • avatar
    Heavymetal_Hippie

    I’m kind of confused by what the Lincoln Experience Center really is supposed to be – Is it a public gathering place? A Lincoln cars museum? A coffee shop? A venue for concerts?

    All this is well and good, but it seems younger people raised in some of the crappiest economic times of the couple of decades, they will see right through this.

    What young people are looking for is cultural authenticity and relevancy. Does this place provide that when the end goal is obviously to sell cars?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Improving the a$$-kissing experience isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but the product should speak for itself. Focusing on this salesy “its the all about the brand” bullsh!t says to me your product is elephant dung and when it gets serious you have to lie.

    • 0 avatar
      Snooder

      The end goal of the Apple store is to sell phones, but people still love going there.

      Speaking as a “young” person in generally the sort of aspirational demographic they’re going for, this looks to me like a step in the right direction. Is it enough? I don’t know. It’ll be a hard slog shedding the negative brand image of being for old people.

      One of the reasons i bought my cadillac was because of the dealership experience. It makes you feel good when you walk into a dealership and people act like you’re rich. One of the reasons I’m probably getting another is because i realized that the dealership experience wasn’t from the brand, but from that specific dealer. Feeling like a million bucks only goes so far when the next time you take your car in for service somewhere else, you’re rudely reminded that you ain’t shit.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “people still love going there”

        I think its pretty sad to love going to a retail store, but then again some people love clothes shopping (i.e. Gap, A&F, whatever else is new lately). I think with the retail world being Amazon’d it will be interesting to these folks.

        “One of the reasons i bought my cadillac was because of the dealership experience.”

        Now I’m curious, which model did you purchase?

        “Feeling like a million bucks only goes so far when the next time you take your car in for service somewhere else, you’re rudely reminded that you ain’t shit.”

        I agree, but this is where our points diverge. Its a big club and the proles ain’t in it, therefore I don’t to delude myself with people kissing my a$$ on the sales floor, but not the service department (or anywhere else for that matter).

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      The Lincoln Experience –
      Came for Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address. Left disappointed.

  • avatar
    hirostates12

    Getting into the “Lincoln Experience” will include lessons on syncing your Jitterbug phone, driving slowly in the left lane and leaving your turn signal on. Can’t wait!

  • avatar
    Matthew DeBoer

    Lincoln’s sales numbers have been on the rise, so they must be doing something right. The new Navigator would be my luxury SUV of choice, the twin turbo MKZ is intriguing, and I like that the Continental is focused on comfortable luxury instead of being a sport sedan. I think the brand is coming around. Go Lincoln.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      So what are they doing right?

      I have yet to have someone convincingly explain why paying extra for an MK-prefixed Fusion/Edge/Expedition is a good idea.

      The Ford Titanium editions are very nice, and appropriately priced.

      • 0 avatar
        brn

        Luke, A few years ago, I was looking at a Lincoln MKZ and heard the same argument. I drove a heavily loaded Fusion right after driving an MKZ.

        First, the MKZ had an engine that wasn’t even available on the Fusion, at any price. The MKZ had cooled seats, again not available on the Fusion. The Lincoln had real wood. The Lincoln even had a larger pass through.

        Putting aside the “not even available” items (there were more, but I can’t remember), what they shared was better on the Lincoln. It was quieter. It was smoother. The materials and switches were nicer. Even items like power seats operated more smoothly.

        People who call them identical either haven’t driven them both or don’t care about the differences. The Lincoln is a nicer vehicle.

        • 0 avatar
          BuzzDog

          The warranty is better, too.

          Unfortunately for Lincoln, dealership closures after the demise of Mercury left some holes in the brand’s dealer network. I’ve read a number of online comments from people like me – we live in moderately-sized Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), yet there is no local Lincoln dealer. In my MSA of 525,000 and growing, the nearest dealer is 60 miles away in a remote, rural community of less than 7,000. It makes no sense to drive one hour and 15 minutes for sales and service, when there are Mercedes, BWW and Cadillac dealers in your community.

          Which might be part of the reason why I still drive nicely-trimmed Fords, and drink stale coffee on a cracked vinyl chair as my vehicles are being serviced…

          • 0 avatar

            Local Ford store (Fremont) has a coffee machine and you can make nice fresh coffee if you want – I always do when waiting for shuttle to ride me to work. Waiting area is also clean and nice. Lincoln dealership in the same city was old and sad, no coffee, one sofa, tight and dirty, no shuttle. It got closed after crash and there is no new one to replace it.

        • 0 avatar
          Featherston

          Interesting insights, brn. I’d add that in the case of the Continental, the contrast probably is even more marked. It’s based on CD4 architecture, but I don’t think any layman would know that it shares DNA with the Fusion. It’s about 6″ wider and longer, and the wheelbase is 6″ longer as well. One of its engine choices is shared with the Fusion Sport, but the others are not.

          I recommend the Smoking Tire’s review of it. It’s an objective, mostly positive take.

          Interesting point by Scoutdude and Buzzdog re: Mercury.

      • 0 avatar

        “I have yet to have someone convincingly explain why paying extra for an MK-prefixed Fusion/Edge/Expedition is a good idea.”

        The reason you buy Lincoln (or Cadillac, Lexus etc) is because you can. Same thing about buying watches, designer clothes, expensive furniture and so on.

  • avatar
    alff

    Is this really anything new? Lincoln dealers haven’t had anything to sell for years.

  • avatar
    alff

    Is this really new? Lincoln dealers haven’t had anything to sell for years.

  • avatar
    Ion

    Kia has on of these at the ritzy mall here. I thought it was out of place with the Tesla store and the parked Benz’s, Cadillac, and Maserati. I Get the idea though, introduce a product to people who wouldn’t otherwise go to your dealer

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      I wouldn’t walk into the local Kia dealer without wearing a full bio hazard suit.

    • 0 avatar
      la834

      There’s one in the ritzy mall in my area too (anchored by Neiman-Marcus and Saks 5th Ave.). It’s not a Kia store per se, it’s just a Stinger store – that’s the name plastered above the store with no reference to Kia. They’re clearly looking for BMW defectors who like rear-drive sports sedans.

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    All these efforts of sophistication will be four-squared away at the local Ford-Lincoln dealer.

  • avatar
    azmtns

    700 leads in a year and a half, housed in some really expensive real estate. I would have like to see how the ROI was sold to management in creating this concept.

  • avatar
    Fred

    “If affluent people like one thing, it’s large stores offering heaps of customer service and absolutely nothing to sell. You know the sort of shops I’m referencing.” Aparently these people are bored.

  • avatar
    readallover

    How to buy a Lincoln:
    Go to the Ford dealership.
    Try and decipher which three letter model it is you like.
    Step 20 feet to the left and find the Titanium model Ford the Lincoln is based on and decide whether it is worth all the extra money to have a different name glued on it.

  • avatar
    Freddie

    The secret to happiness, contentment and saving lots of money: Liberate yourself from “branding”. Buy the car you like best without regard to the emblem on the grill. Buy a car (or any product) to impress yourself, not others.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    This is the whole first-class members-only airport boarding lounge experience in another context. Sounds crazy at first, but the more Mercedes waters down their product the more sense it makes.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      This.

      Think of the Chase Sapphire reserve, or the black card perks. Eventually whether through the all-inclusive plans from Volvo or Cadillac one of the manufacturers will start experiment with additional perks like access to travel lounges.

      I’m mildly surprised Lincoln or Cadillac isn’t already offering customer perks like luggage fee’s being waved or other perks. At the end of theday it’s about getting people to write you a check every month, whether anchored against an asset (a phone or a car, a mortgage, doesn’t matter). While Mercedes does some of this with the concierge service, it’s an add on offering.

      If you want upscale (high FICO) players, you’ve gotta look beyond the traditional approaches if you aren’t in the cool kids club already.

      Of course that also means your store-fronts can’t look like ass. That’s the other hammer I expect this eventually leads to. If they can turn this concept into a high-conversion rate they’ll use the experiment to force dealer improvements.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    Lincoln should try making a really great car.

  • avatar
    Penguinlord

    Have you ever seen a Lincoln dealer drink a glass of infused water?

    I will not sit by and allow Lincoln-Branding infiltration, Lincoln-Branding indoctrination, Lincoln-Branding subversion, and the international Lincoln-Branding conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

  • avatar
    Panther Platform

    I’m a Ford guy and have had two Lincolns (a Town Car and a Mark VIII). I’m not particularly affluent, but in a few years will be probably able to comfortably purchase a new MKZ or Continental. But this “Lincoln Experience” does not sit right with a meat and potatoes kind of guy who enjoys cheap beer, diners, and has never had a new car.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    But it’s All Good…’cause Lincoln is switching to REAL CAR NAMES!!!

    That fixes everything!

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    I wouldn’t mind hanging out at a coffee shop that rotated in various vintage and classic rides that I could sit and check out.

    I’d really like hanging out in a bar like that, but no one in their right mind would lend a coffin-nose Cord to be vandalized by a bunch of indifferent drunks so that will never happen.


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