Lincoln's Latest Gambit: Stores for Selling the Brand, Not Cars
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.
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.
“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]
A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.
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