Land of no Lincolns


Calif. store aims for new experience, buyers

Lincoln is halfway through its six-year plan to triple its annual sales to 300,000 vehicles globally by 2020.
One key to achieving that goal? A retail space that doesn’t sell anything, in a part of the country where Lincolns are few and far between.
About 100,000 people have wandered into Lincoln’s 5,200-square-foot slice of Fashion Island, a tony outdoor mall overlooking the Pacific Ocean, since it opened in July 2016. It’s a high-traffic area surrounded by Nike, Louis Vuitton, Neiman Marcus, Whole Foods and Hopdoddy, a craft burger bar.
The Lincoln Experience Center, as it’s known, sits in an especially affluent part of swanky Orange County — the heart of enemy territory for a domestic luxury brand.
A Tesla gallery is just steps away. Fletcher Jones Motorcars, which bills itself as the country’s largest Mercedes-Benz dealership, is just a short drive up Jamboree Road, and Crevier BMW, one of the largest BMW retailers, is a few miles farther inland, in Santa Ana.

Photo credit: MICHAEL MARTINEZ

Lincoln officials contend that’s the perfect location to woo new customers. They say 60 percent of visitors are not familiar with the brand at all, but that often changes once they spend some time there; the center has delivered roughly 700 leads to dealerships so far.
“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.”

The intimate space has room for just three show cars: one on the exterior to grab shoppers’ attention and two more inside. Staff rotate the cars throughout the month and say the redesigned 2018 Navigator has been an especially big hit.

Visitors can order an espresso or sparkling water from an oval-shaped bar in the center of the room. Soon after the center’s opening, the staff realized a number of locals often walk their dogs in the shopping center, so they stocked the bar with water bowls and Lincoln-branded dog treats.
The center has a configurator that lets guests customize a virtual vehicle. They also can schedule short test drives or set up a “date night,” in which Lincoln will deliver a vehicle to their home for 24 to 48 hours.
“Our vision for this is open, warm and personally crafted,” Wood said. “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 nonconfrontational environment.”
Live music and sushi
To help achieve that goal, Lincoln purposely looked outside the auto industry to staff the Experience Center. All 15 employees have backgrounds in hospitality, working for hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton or nearby Pelican Hill resort, and completed a monthlong training course.
“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.”

The Lincoln center has room for just three vehicles: One outdoors to grab customers’ attention and two inside.

The center also serves as a third-party event space. The United Way of Orange County has hosted numerous fundraisers here. It’s been home to painting classes and sushi pop-ups.
During mall hours, Lincoln often invites bands to play live music and hosts happy hours here. “It cuts through some of the clutter and gets people to casually walk in,” Will Krill, Lincoln Experience Center and global facility manager, said in an interview. “This gives them a chance to informally add Lincoln to that consideration list before committing to that dealership process.”
Dealer referrals
If visitors do decide to buy a vehicle, the center sets them up with a local dealer. Two are close by.
The numbers are starting to add up. In 2016, the pair of showrooms sold 60 Navigators combined. Since April, the center has helped facilitate 30 Navigator orders, 70 percent of which were conquests from rival brands.
This year, Lincoln has sold 100,540 vehicles in the U.S. though November, a 1.6 percent increase, and 45,729 in China through October, an 85 percent gain. The brand was just above six digits globally in 2014, when it announced the 2020 target of 300,000.
Since Lincoln landed at Fashion Island, it has added another Experience Center in Frisco, Texas, a posh suburb of Dallas. It plans to add more but has not specified where. However, they are likely to be placed in areas similar to Frisco and Newport Beach: top luxury markets with low Lincoln brand recognition.
“Putting it in the heart of luxury is critically important as we look to the future,” Wood said. “We have a good story to tell.”
Fuente: Auto News

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