Lincoln's Latest Gambit: Stores for Selling the Brand, Not Cars

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
lincolns 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]

Join the conversation
2 of 76 comments
  • FreedMike FreedMike on Dec 19, 2017

    But it's All Good...'cause Lincoln is switching to REAL CAR NAMES!!! That fixes everything!

  • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Jan 10, 2018

    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.

  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
  • Tassos The Euro spec Taurus is the US spec Ford FUSION.Very few buyers care to see it here. FOrd has stopped making the Fusion long agoWake us when you have some interesting news to report.