By on August 7, 2019

With the American public growing less inclined to visit car dealerships, Ford Motor Company is toying with an interesting solution — setting up shop in your local mall. The concept will be similar to the storefront Jake and Elwood crash through in The Blues Brothers after noticing “the new Oldsmobiles are in early this year.” It’ll be small, limited to a couple of showroom models, and will serve as a satellite for local dealerships.

However, shopping malls aren’t nearly as popular as they were in the 1980s. Back then, people actually left the house to do their shopping. But there’s still hope. Many malls are rebranding themselves as shopping centers and focusing more on experiential services and the kind of goods you wouldn’t want to purchase sight unseen. The rest continue to wither on the vine. 

Ford has dabbled in experience centers before. Lincoln set up a handful of small, boutique shops in more-affluent areas while the mainstream nameplate set up “FordHub” in New York’s Westfield World Trade Center shopping mall — hoping to educate consumers about its new mobility projects. The new pilot program is more straightforward. It’s all about pushing existing products and hoping to connect consumers with dealerships during a period of dwindling auto sales.

“This is a tremendous period of change for the dealers,” Isabelle Helms, vice president of research and market intelligence at Cox Automotive, told The Detroit News. “This started several years back. Every year, the number of dealerships visited by car buyers declines.”

From The Detroit News:

Ford plans to try the concept at an as-yet-unannounced mall in the United States, according to Rob De Filippo, Ford’s director of global in-store retail experience. He said the test locations — one in Quebec City, the others in cities in Italy, Belgium and Germany — are generating hundreds of new sales leads that might have otherwise been missed.

The storefronts or stands house a few Ford vehicles. Employees can answer questions and pass leads to salespeople. Passersby are able to test-drive vehicles parked outside in some locations. Although shopping malls have been struggling, De Filippo said satellite locations could pop up in other locations.

Ford claims these shops aren’t intended to replace traditional dealerships, though some locations in Europe do allow customers to sign purchasing or lease agreements on site. “We’re trying to ensure the long-term dealer sustainability,” De Filippo explained. “This is all about learning and testing new concepts. The large-dealer format is going to come under a lot of pressure. So we’re looking at how do we transform retail for the future.”

[Images: Logan Bush/Shutterstock; Ford Motor Co.]

 

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64 Comments on “Ford Testing New Storefronts in Shopping Malls...”


  • avatar
    Sam Hall

    You’d think cars could be sold almost exactly like computers. You can configure and buy online, or if you want to put your hands on one before you buy, there is a showroom where you can do that, and also pick one up from store stock if you want.

    There could be an entire experience built around a showroom, or preferably several different branded showrooms, where you can sit in the car and go for a test drive but without being surrounded by acres of parked inventory. The inventory can live at a regional distribution center and be available for delivery on short notice, or the factory can fill custom orders within a few days.

    I know, I know, I’m dreaming and Bark will be along any minute to ‘splain me why not only can this not happen, but I wouldn’t even want it to. Color me skeptical…

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      State dealer associations exist specifically to prevent what you describe from happening. Some states have laws on the books specifically to prevent what you describe.

      I am no fan of Elon Musk, but I give him credit for his disruptive efforts to sell his cars direct to the consumer. I hope he succeeds in breaking the dealer stanglehold on car sales. Car dealers can treat their customers like shyt because new car buyers have no other option. Online configurators and financing apps make many dealer services obsolete. I look forward with great hope that before I die, I can order up the exact new car I want, and have it delivered to my door without having to deal with another a-hole salesman and F & I guy.

      Let the monopoly fall!

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        “Car dealers can treat their customers like shyt because new car buyers have no other option. … Let the monopoly fall!”

        So … once the dealers are out of the way, you plan to deal directly with the $30 billion multinational conglomerate? And this sounds like monopoly-busting?

        • 0 avatar
          R Henry

          I understand your point, and yes, that is valid. How to manage trade ins is another issue, though I am sure the free market could provide options…such as what CarMax does–cash purchase offers regardless of subsequent purchase.

          That said, if restrictions on direct to consumer sales models are lifted, dealers would be forced to add value to transactions. For me, the guy who can get his own financing, and who sells my old cars myself, dealers add no real value.

          • 0 avatar
            pinkslip

            YOU may not feel you need a salesman to explain features, sell competitive advantages, or arrange financing terms, but you are in the minority. Most (non-car) people need someone to pair their bluetooth for them (much less explain how adaptive cruise control works!). This can be offered by a corporate-run showroom rep, but the idea of buying a car without test driving it is ludicrous for many reasons, and someone needs to stock adequate inventory within a reasonable driving distance from most buyers; the same place the buyer will need to go for services, presumably. This is not something OEMs are interested in.

            Every manufacturer wants a salesperson who can sell you on their brand over their competition, so dissolving the franchise element doesn’t help there.

            And many buyers need someone to shop bank rates for them. Sure maybe the sub-vented rate offered by the OEM’s captive finance arm is the best option, but many people need a bank offering a little more flexibility. This is also something the OEMs don’t want to deal with.

            While we like to think dealers are the only thing stopping direct sales, the reality is that the manufacturers don’t really want to sell direct.

          • 0 avatar
            R Henry

            Yes, dealers add value to many vehicle shoppers, but not for me. Why can’t I buy direct?

  • avatar
    EquipmentJunkie

    I don’t know if this mall store effort will work. However, there is and will continue to be plentiful and relatively inexpensive square footage with which to experiment with the mall concept.

    • 0 avatar
      cprescott

      I was thinking about the lower than usual cost per square foot that likely would come from such a location. Not sure if there would be much foot traffic, but the concept is interesting without having to deal with the usual lot lizards.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I read somewhere that the generations behind Millinneals actually liked malls. What they wanted from the stores was a little different and personal from the Gen-X malldwellers of the past but they definitely preferred malls.

        Yes, the once booming malls like Regency Square in Jacksonville, FL are dead and not coming back, but that is mostly due to the area going to crap as is the case with a lot of malls.

        There will be space in all malls though. Not every retailer has been able to figure it out but I think the mall purge is slowing and the healthy malls are going to make it.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        By the way, the mall scene in Huntsville, Al supports this. The normal mall in the suburbs died. Near it they built one of those trendy outdoor malls with restaurants, an Apple store, etc.

        But the older mall closer to the city has been doing well too. The area has been on the upswing with a Whole Foods and those type places going in. That clientele supports it.

        Incidentally the local mega multi brand dealer took over what used to be the Brookstone and has cars from different brands and a salesperson in there. The trendy, outdoor mall has a tie in with Audi and they park various models all over. We did that in the 90s with Saturn’s at outlr local mall giving 17 year old me the thrill of driving down the mall from time to time.

    • 0 avatar
      JoeBrick

      Coming to a vacant K-Mart near you…

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Not the worst idea, if you ask me – Ford is probably going to pick up these spaces on the cheap. Brick and mortar stores are dying off, so malls are desperate for tenants these days. Someone has to fill up that space left by the Limited, Charming Charlie, and so on.

    In theory, the mall gets a tenant and Ford gets a lead source and a chance to showcase products to shoppers in a no-pressure environment. Win-win. We’ll see.

    You’ll start seeing more unconventional tenants in malls going forward – medical facilities are next.

    • 0 avatar
      EquipmentJunkie

      The person(s) to devlop a winning concept for shopping mall usage will get filthy rich.

      I think that some sort of retirement community/elder care housing will likely be tried, as well.

      • 0 avatar
        spookiness

        The structures are not worth much and too difficult and energy inefficient to modify. Its the land that usually has value. Most are being completely redeveloped, or heavily facelifted with residential in addition to retail.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Check out the Dead malls website

      http://www.deadmalls.com/

      The average lifespan of a shopping mall is around 20 years. Many have been repurposed into medical centers, office parks and education complexes. The mall featured in the 80’s film Valley Girl is now an office park.
      Considering the retail apocalypse makes perfect sense that auto dealerships seek out reasonably priced space in malls.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Speaking of “retail apocalypse” and dead malls…a dead mall in Georgia was actually used as the set for a mall that was destroyed, apocalypse-style, in the latest season of “Stranger Things.” The producers actually re-created mid-80s versions of stores like The Gap, Claire’s, etc, right down to the interiors. It was an awesome piece of nostalgia.

        https://www.curbed.com/2019/7/12/20691222/stranger-things-starcourt-mall-real-mall-georgia

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          @FreedMike:

          “a dead mall in Georgia was actually used as the set for a mall that was destroyed, apocalypse-style, in the latest season of “Stranger Things.” The producers actually re-created mid-80s versions of stores like The Gap, Claire’s, etc, right down to the interiors. It was an awesome piece of nostalgia.”

          bah. amateurs. Blues Brothers already did that, and did it MUCH better.

          I swear, the youngsters who think they invented everything…

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        When I still lived in the Cleveland area, I would go to a mall called Rolling Acres that eventually died. It was torn down and reborn as an Amazon distribution center…

        Ohh, the irony.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          We’ve got three or four sites in the Toledo metro that had shopping malls on them as late as the 2000s, and now they’re parking lots with weeds! The one area which used to be Southwyck Mall used to have all kinds of other retail on the street bordering the mall, plus there was an office park that was built around the perimeter, and for a few blocks around it!

          Now there’s mostly vacant storefronts, and what retail there is in that stretch isn’t doing the greatest! (There was a K-Mart adjacent to the mall, which closed not long after Southwyck itself, an MC Sporting Goods, Toys-R-Us which managed to hang on until Geoffrey retired last year.) Not even sure if the McDonald’s in the area is still going.

        • 0 avatar
          dig

          @geo z.

          I grew up just west of “Strolling Acres” in Wadsworth. Remember when that place was like new. It went to shyte pretty quick as I recall from the 70’s into the 80’s. I was gone by early 80’s but have visited several times over the decades. Hopefully Amazon got it for stupid cheap. Re-purposing and capitalism at its best!

    • 0 avatar
      JoeBrick

      Perhaps Ford and the other U.S. carmakers will house their laid-off workers in the empty retail space around the country created in the recession that is partly of their own making. Ford and GM could become giant slumlords…er…I mean…transition their business models to utilize the upsurge in repurposed workers who are transiting between permanent accommodations and a more transient lifestyle with increased downward mobility, while concurrently scooping up large barrels of Federal Section8 cash outlays.

  • avatar
    salmonmigration

    Found On Road 20 years out of Date

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    My next new vehicle will be purchased from either a) a vending machine, b) online delivery service analogous to Grubhub, or c) Amazon w/free Prime same day shipping by drone.

    My next used vehicle purchase will be undertake the same way, with the potential addition of d) at an auction where gently used, pristine, like-new, ultra low mileage vehicles of all kinds, 2 and 3 years old, can by purchased for 38% to 45% of their new purchase price.

    p.s. – You should see some of the aggressive deals being offered in the metro Detroit area on new vehicles, leases and outright sale offers. If I was in the market for a new pickup truck there’d be a new Ram Rebel in my garage or driveway now, and if a sedan, same thing. We are talking trucks with MSRPs of 40k-50k for less than $250/month $0 down sign and drive, and large sedans MSRP 35k-45k for under $210/month same terms. Can easily get 20% to 26% off new vehicle purchase right now – there is a massive glut (23% off or more is my sweet spot on decent new vehicles).

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    This idea was clearly put forth by an overcompensated executive who hasn’t set foot in a mall (or any other retail establishment) in 20 years because he “has people” to do those sorts of menial tasks on his behalf.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      eggsalad,

      It may also be that on the rare occasion when the executive *does* go to the mall, he goes to the mall in his neighborhood, which is still doing pretty well.

      Similarly, he drives/rides in the top trim level of his company’s largest luxury SUV, and wouldn’t recognize the popularly-equipped trim level of his company’s best-selling product if he were sitting in it.

      Living in a bubble is a real thing for many executives, and it doesn’t lead to optimum decisions.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    If I were to get into the auto franchise business today, I would do this.

    I would not build a new dealership at a cost of $275 to $400 per square foot (i.e. for a medium- ish sized dealership, a 40,000 square foot showroom and service bays) at a cost of $11,000,000 to $16,000,000 JUST FOR THE BUILDING, plus another $800,000 to $1,800,000 per acre (price per acre depending on region of country and specific location) for the 3.5 to 5 acres needed to build the building.

    But even if one does this, and saves, let’s assume 75% startup cost reduction, the days of the traditional automotive dealership franchise are numbered, so it’s moot.

  • avatar
    Fred

    It’s been awhile since I was in a mall, but I remember dealers showing their cars in the hallway. Most people walk by. I doubt a store front will change that.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    p.s. -‘Ford has already moved many hundreds (thousand or so?) of employees from their Dearborn Campus into the ex-LORD & Taylor space at Fairlane Mall (but this was before Ford axed 15,000 employees a few months ago, so not sure what sitrep is now).

  • avatar
    R Henry

    As I observe my own family’s behavior, I notice that our trips to the local mall are now more to see a film or have a meal. Shopping for apparel or housewares is a much rarer event.

    To recognize this, and to enhance this mall-based car sales idea, how about this?:

    A local restaurateur opens a car-themed mall restaurant…and inside the dining room are shiny new cars interspersed amongst the diners. As the family shares a meal, they are forced to look at the newest models. The restaurant then gets to split some rent costs with the local authorized dealer, and maybe even earn a spiff on referrals.

  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    ” shopping malls aren’t nearly as popular as they were in the 1980s.”

    I’ll say!

    We recently spent several days in Denver, CO, and visited several Malls, among them the Colorado Mills Mall (Sketchers, Clarks, Dillards, Apple store, Microsoft store, Cheese Cake Factory, et al.)

    Frankly, all that walking was painful for my bum knee and favoring that leg caused all sorts of collateral aches and pains to pop up elsewhere in my body.

    Bottom line, we ended up buying what we were looking for online from Amazon, Wal-Mart and Newegg, respectively.

    I coulda saved myself a lot of pain not going to the Mall.

    Ford’s showroom mall storefronts are no attraction for me since I can do the research online. I can get the touchy-feely hands-on in when I decide what to buy, when I decide to buy.

    Thumbs down on this idea.

  • avatar
    JoeBrick

    Kaiser Motors used to sell a version of their HenryJ through Sears stores as the “Allstate”. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    Matt, did you happen to take that picture at Westland Mall, by any chance?

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Ford should test making better quality cars.

  • avatar

    Can someone who was born in USA explain me why everything in USA is so complicated. Like for example:
    1. Taxes – you need complex SW or top notch accountants to figure out how much to pay IRS and often even they make few mistakes and then IRS comes after you.
    2. Healthcare. If you work for big company it is kind of okay, but if individual – it is a nightmare. And all those copays, coinsurance, little games doctors and hospitals play with you with a eventual goal to bankrupt you. I do not elaborate more – everybody knows it is a nightmare that sucks big way but nothing can be done for some mysterious reason.
    3. Buying new car – enough said. Fools get fooled and eaten alive by snakes and foxes. When you could just order what you want for market price and be satisfied and done with it.
    4, Tips. It is a one thing I hate most about America. It does not help anything and anyone and makes life endlessly miserable. UBER tried to solve this problem but Americans revolted. Why? Why they do not revolt about healthcare system e.g.?
    5. Pensions. It is like playing lottery with your future. Nothing is guaranteed. If you smart in stock market you are a big winner. Otherwise you sucker and have no future.
    And finally – imperial system in which it is impossible to make any complex calculation. It does not make any sense, may be in middle ages when everything was measured approximately by length of your foot. How it is possible to measure thickness of brake pads in inches is beyond me.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “Can someone who was born in USA explain me why everything in USA is so complicated. ”

      It is because every American’s definition of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” is different from anyone else’s definition.

      So in order to reach an equilibrium, or an agreement, or a solution, there is much cussing and discussing before some sort of compromise is reached that everyone can live with, but no one is completely happy with.

      Been this way in America since the Brits, Huguenots, Lutherans, Amish, Dutch, Irish, Italians and other pilgrims fleeing oppression came to the American shores.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      In short, a large percentage of Americans believe so strongly in the notion that, however we do things, it has to be the best possible way because it’s American.

      Sometimes, we are right. Often, we are not and the examples you cite prove this point.

      Oh, and one more thing, many Americans believe, deeply, that taxes are evil.

    • 0 avatar
      dig

      @ Inside Looking Out.

      I have appreciated most of your comments over the years however unbelievable the USA is, it can and still will become more unbelievable over time. I assume you are European. When I travel to EU it always appears different over time. I was born here some 50 odd years ago and I still don’t get it. We will never have what EU has. For good or for bad depending on the sit-rep.

      That said I still like Uber and Fords in my old age! Well, Toyota too.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Inside Looking Out,

      Answer to #4: It is just a difference in custom/tradition.

      Answer to #1, 2, 3, 5: The U.S. today is a Corporatocracy.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        Imperial system: Inertia, familiarity, cost, installed base. By way of analogy, why doesn’t the world standardize on right hand drive or left hand drive? Why doesn’t everyone use same electrical voltage? Shrugs.

        Measuring brake pad in inches is less silly than measuring capacitance in microfarads (Farad as a standardized unit was defined too large).

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          Step 1: Is it 1,000,000.00 or 1.000.000,00?

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          In the commonwealth of Virginia, the state inspection standard for brake pad replacement is 2/32nds of an inch. Not 1/16th, but 2/32nds.

          The problem with the metric system is that the units themselves are sometimes inferior for describing the ranges of various properties that are most commonly used by laymen.

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      1. Tax prepare software has lobbied (bribed) Congress to keep it complicated. A couple of times it’s been proposed to simplify it, but it hasn’t gotten out of committee.
      2. Many Americans get upset when we talk about government control of anything. Never mind that now they have corporate control. It’s a big difference, the left prefers government, and the right prefers corporate.
      3. You can buy a car like you describe, I guess we just like to haggle.
      4. I don’t know.
      5. Most Americans are poor savers and generally poor at math. Changing to the metric system would cause us to replace all are scales and think differently. We don’t want to do it. We measure brake pads in fractions of an inch. It’s easy when you are taught it from young.

  • avatar
    thejohnnycanuck

    Gawd I hate f$*^@#g malls. If they could bottle the rampant immaturity and attitude of the teenage girls that inhabit them we’d solve the energy crisis.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @highdesertcat–Agree I order more and more on Amazon and have not been in a mall for almost a year. Use to go to Florence Mall in NKY but since Sears closed I don’t go there especially when the Sears Auto Service closed and then the store itself. For the most part I go to Krogers and Costco if I go to any store. I don’t need as much as I use to and I will be retiring in 2 years. I doubt I would go to a mall to look at a new vehicle because I do more and more on the internet and I might just try Costco’s auto buying service next time I buy a new vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Jeff S, I know a couple of guys who have used Costco’s car buying service and they had NO complaints. Ditto with USAA car buying service – everything as advertised, no surprises, plates came in the mail.

      My best friend (and I) have been doing a lot of shopping for a new Silverado in Silver Ice metallic at various dealer sites. So the “color” and “features” option allows the potential buyer to show only those vehicles that meet the selected criteria, AND provides the dealer’s stock number as well.

      Pretty handy tool to have. And my best friend has made extensive use of it to facilitate his shopping ease. It beats walking all over hell and the dealer parking lot to find that particular vehicle. If you make an appointment, they’ll have the vehicle pulled out for you when you get there.

      The turn-off always seems to be the price, and the nit-noy padding dealers do when they recognize you as a ‘serious’ buyer.

      Best to walk away from such an encounter.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Agree, I have no problem walking away. I like the Silver Ice Metallic as well.

  • avatar

    The photo at the header is a typical representation of many malls I have seen. They’re dying-off in my part of Pennsylvania. If the trend continues, Ford would be taking a big risk by investing in showrooms located in shopping malls. Who would want to go shopping for a new $50,000 vehicle in a nearly-abandoned 1970s-style mall with a broken pavement parking lot?

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    OK why does that sign say “Bunk”? (Third picture, serious question.)

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      The sign in front of what looks to be a next-gen Focus has a Euro symbol on it, so it’s probably one of the languages of the countries in the EU. I plugged the word into Google Translate for German->English, and got squat.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Ford needs to think about this some more before they do this. The message might be an unintended one that the US auto industry could end up like the shopping mall, out of date and dying.


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