UK BMW dealer puts Future Retail program to the test

If it were not for all the new cars, Elms BMW Cambridge’s state-of-the art showroom in Cambourne, England, would look more like a chic clothing store than a dealership. There are other noticeable differences once one steps inside. Salesmen do not approach customers as they enter, instead they are greeted by a so-called Product Genius. Using a tablet computer, these young, tech-savvy employees provide prospective buyers with a no-pressure explanation of the features available in BMW’s vehicles. The service is similar to that offered at Apple’s Genius Bars.

If a customer decides to buy a new car, he or she meets with the salesman in a small private room where information about the purchase is projected onto a big screen. Gone are the days when the salesman sits across a desk from the buyer and only occasionally swings his computer screen around so that the customer can see what is being entered on the screen.

“Total transparency was the aim we had in mind when we decided to build this new dealership and we were lucky that BMW was planning its new Future Retail program at the same time,” said Steve Penman, dealer principal at Elms Cambridge BMW.

BMW began piloting its Future Retail program in 2012 with the goal of offering new ways for customers to experience the product and the brand. The other objective was to provide customers with a thorough, unrushed explanation of the new technology that is being added to the vehicles as well as key details on the numerous models being added to BMW’s lineup. All of this can be provided using high-tech tools while saving the dealership from having to have physical space for every car in BMW and sister brand Mini’s expanding lineups.

“With the comprehensive Future Retail program, we aim to introduce new systems, tools and a new mindset into our dealer network to provide customers with a highly emotional, personal and communicative brand experience,” BMW sales boss Ian Robertson said.

The rollout of the Future Retail program started last year in the UK, France, China and the Netherlands. The program is now being followed at dealerships in 33 countries worldwide. The Elms Group is part of the family-owned Bedfordia Automobile, which operates three BMW and Mini dealerships about 100km north of London. The trio of stores accounted for 1,700 new car sales and 1,400 used car sales last year.

Construction of the company’s 9 million pound (about 11.4 million euro) new dealership in Cambourne was completed in June 2011. The facility, which features separate buildings for BMW and Mini customers, complies with the principles of the Future Retail plan because Penman says he was looking for a better way to lure new customers to the store. “I do not need to sell you a car, but to convince you that you cannot live without it,” he said.

Adding Product Geniuses perfectly fits Penman’s vision so he was happy to help BMW test the idea. He says that on average one out of 10 potential customers who were greeted by a traditional salesman ended up buying a vehicle, but the sales rate doubled for customers whose first contact was with a Product Genius. Prior to the trial Penman had three salespeople for every one Product Genius. Now the ratio is 1-to-1.