Why Car Dealerships Are Turning Into Coffee Shops

February 7, 2014

Here’s a really relevant article that I came across written by Geoff Day:

Need a recommendation for the trendiest eatery around? If you are looking for the latest in gourmet treats, then look no further than your local car dealership. I live on the Upper West Side of this little village called Manhattan, just a donut’s throw away from the avenue of automotive dreams, 11th between 40th and 61st. Here you can breakfast with Fiat, lunch with Mercedes-Benz and round off the day with afternoon tea at Jaguar – all free and very tasty as the dealers compete to provide the latest in customer care and satisfaction for the potential car buyer of the future.

But what makes any of us buy a car? Good gas mileage? Zippy 0 to 60 times? Increasingly, car company executives believe the sale lies in a smoother, more robust Arabica bean. They believe a good espresso machine is as important as a hydraulic lift. And when outfitting a new dealership, free wifi is more enticing than a free oil change. Dealerships are getting facelifts to keep them young and attractive.

As your car showroom becomes more Ethan Allen than Honest Ed’s, those executives might just be forgetting that substance always wins out over style. I want my dealer to know about cars not coffee, someone who knows the difference between a Buick and a barista.

Across this land of ours, dealers are spending billion of dollars this year on new or upgraded facilities all designed to turn the old car lot into a palace of experiential delight. The current theory is that the buildings should have fancier chrome work than the car itself, indulgent sofas to relax and unwind on and more TV screens than even Elvis had in Graceland. But what the dealers are forgetting is that the customer – you and me, by the way – is more interested in spending a few hours in an airline lounge than a greasy car showroom. But I get it – deals keep getting harder and harder to seal, so the dealers are desperate to try new things to win new customers.

As much as we all appreciate a mini cupcake, it is this age group that all this investment is designed to attract.

This is never truer than when selling the most elusive and prized of all customers, the Gen Y-er. As much as we all appreciate a mini cupcake, it is this age group that all this investment is designed to attract.

Since our darling little Gen Y babies will soon become the largest economically viable part of our population, businesses are desperately seeking ways to engage and capture this dollar-rich power group. Since millions of them are also acquiring driving licenses on an annual basis, car companies are amongst the worst offenders in slapping on some blush to tart up their act and attract these techno savvy twinks into the old-banger boudoir. That’s why they are rushing to refurbish old dealerships and roll out the red carpet for these cash cows born between 1977 and 1995.

The trouble is, most car executives and dealer owners are Baby Boomers (or older), and so in the time honored fashion of father unable to understand son, we have the potential for a classic, “Geez, you’re so embarrassing dad, leave me alone!” situation on the forecourt.

I have sat in many meetings where the subject was: “Gen Y – How To Sell Our Cars To Them.” These meetings involve a bunch of older white guys trying to fathom how to make their car brand relevant to a younger, more diverse demographic. It’s not unlike a certain bunch of Congressman telling women how to run their “shop,” and we can all see how well that has worked out for the electoral appeal of those “wise men.”

Not that I’m saying only the like-minded know how to read each other’s minds, not at all. There are thousands of articles about the generation gaps and how to bridge them by putting yourself in the other generation’s shoes, but to my mind, the real truth is we all like wearing the same shoes.

The trouble with the car-buying process is in the lack of understanding what we all want from the sales process.

Facebook has made Millenials of us all. My 62-year-old brother spends more time on social media than his 29-year-old son. I’ll answer a text 100 times quicker than returning a missed phone call. The trouble with the car-buying process is not in the age difference or the lack of youthful appeal. It’s in the lack of understanding what we all want from the sales process. So, back to the dealership where my iced latte is getting warm.

The dealership of the future isn’t about bigger and brighter bricks and mortar, it should be about brighter salespeople and bigger opportunities to get my bum in the seat of the car I want. I bet everyone reading this will know 10 times more about the car they want to buy than the person whose job it is to sell it to them.

I was speaking to a business colleague last week, and he told me how he never met a salesman or even visited the dealership to buy his new car. He researched online, phoned for a deal and had the car delivered to his home. Seamless. I’d like my dealership to have more inventory than iPads so I can feel the car out and get my choice faster. Look at that, impatience is not the preserve of the young. At the end of the day it’s about, and really always has been, getting the best result at the best price in the best way. It’s what the best dealers already knew, give them what they want, when they want it. Hold the chai tea.

Perhaps some of those billions of dollars of investment in real estate would be wiser spent on training talent to help customers get what they want and need from their car. Money better used on building more intuitive and interactive commerce technology rather than temples of testicular grandstanding.


geoffdayGeoff Day has been called the “Pied Piper” of the auto industry, leading auto journalists on wild rides around the globe in his position as former director of communications for Mercedes-Benz USA. Before that, he worked at DaimlerChrysler UK on its PR efforts, and rubbed elbows with the Queen of England in his role at the Buckingham Palace Press Office. His phone is filled with the numbers of the great, the good and the bad. His head is filled with dirty little secrets hiding in many corners of the auto industry.