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Will car showrooms in shopping centres prove a winner?

Jim Saker

Innovation has been part of our sector for the past hundred years and when, in 2012, Simon Dixon and Hyundai partnered to deliver the Rockar outlets in the Westfield (Stratford) and Bluewater shopping centres the industry started to take note.

In April the arrangement ended with Motorline taking over the running of the two stores.

It is difficult to work out exactly why the experiment came to an end as little information has come into the public domain.

As a means of brand exposure, having a display of vehicles in an area of high footfall makes some sense, if the financial underpinning of the process is sustainable.

This is not a new concept. For decades companies have had brand showrooms on roads such as Paris’s Champs Elysees and in other major cities. These have been primarily funded by the manufacturers and, until recently, have not had a sales operation in place at these locations.

Rockar was based on providing an online platform that facilitated the customer through the buying process which was then supported by staff in the retail outlet.

It has been argued that Rockar enhanced Hyundai’s brand awareness but as the manufacturer’s research indicated 95% of the sales were from people who lived within 10 miles of the outlet and therefore, from their view, it made more sense for the stores to be operated by local dealers.

The debate regarding this format has taken a further step with the recent opening of the Rockar, Next, Ford collaboration at Manchester’s Arndale Centre.

This has generated some comment in the automotive arena, but I can find little in the fashion press to suggest there is a synergistic relationship between cars and mid-priced fashion retailing.

There is some acknowledgement that the Ford initiative is taking up spare capacity Next had at the store which at least suggests that the underpinning cost of running the operation will be minimised.

There appears to be an underpinning logic for this move with Ford launching its online sales pilot with customers being able to specify, finance and order a new car for delivery to participating dealers, the Arndale Centre or to any home address in the country.

Undoubtedly, different retail formats will emerge, but there has been insufficient work done on whether having a shopping mall presence will actually drive enough sales to justify the expense and change in the supply chain.

A few years back we did some research into the brand showrooms in Paris. By far the most popular one was Renault not because it was French or the exhibits on show were great, but the fact that it had a fantastic restaurant. Could the car industry save the failing restaurant chains on the High Street. Definitely food for thought (apologies)!

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