Just ask the executives of any car manufacturer what company they want to be like, and you’re likely to get a pretty consistent answer – Apple! They love the high-techniness. They love the great consumer buzz about the company. They love the sleek stores packed with customers. But if they’re so hot to be like Apple, why don’t they get the point?
To answer that, let’s explore some of the things that manufacturers say that they find so attractive about Apple. They want to sharpen their internet presence so that customers never have to go to a dealer. Or in the words of a distributor executive in a recent Automotive News article, so that the dealers will just be “concierges” for internet buyers. Exactly how, however, do they explain all those shoppers in the Apple stores if those folks do everything online?
Or the car executives want their dealers to have sparkling new, high-tech-looking facilities so that people will flock to the stores for the ambiance as they shop. If that is the case, why aren’t customers in Apple stores sitting in chairs just soaking up the high-tech glossiness? Why are they huddled around the products, touching them, using them, and dreaming that they own them?
The truth is that the success of Apple stores proves the importance of dealers to vehicle purchasers. Product is still king. People want to touch new cars, they want to sit in them, they want to drive them, they want to dream about tooling down the Pacific Coast Highway or Skyline Drive in them. This is even more the case with used cars where people are inherently concerned about the quality of the vehicle, and they want to see, touch, inspect and drive it.
Let’s face it, Apple is a great retailer not because they build nice stores or have a sexy internet portal. Apple is the envy of the retailing world for one overriding reason: their products are ultra cool, they’re hot looking, they’re hot operating, and people just want to own them. Any vehicle manufacturer who can copy that formula will have buyers packing stores regardless of its internet presence or the look of its dealerships.
The manufacturer emphasis on internet presentation or the sexy high tech look of the retail facilities is just a smoke screen. It is an excuse for a manufacturer who doesn’t produce vehicles that make customers salivate.
So the lesson of Apple for car manufacturers is simple. Stop the distractions from your core mission. Stop demanding that dealers do business in the uniform, expensive way that you demand that ignores the local market expertise of your dealers. Stop the relentless attacks on the ability of dealers to pay for the retailing palaces that you demand by constant reductions in mark-ups and direct internet prospecting. Do what you do best – designing and building great products – and leave it to dealers to do what they do best – selling your products and servicing their customers.