Can Chevrolet Run the Happiest Dealerships on Earth?

GM Brand Taps Disney to Train Salespeople, Spruces up Stores With Blue Arch

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Even as Chevy taps a new creative agency in Commonwealth, it's focused on addressing an issue more basic than branding: On the scale of enjoyment for millions of consumers, a visit to the car dealer ranks right up there with a periodontal cleaning.

Chevy wants to ease the pain and so has undertaken a program to achieve a "renaissance" at its dealerships. It includes training for salespeople, from "value-based leadership" experts at the Disney Institute, renovations of dealer stores and the TV campaign from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Detroit.

Chris Perry, VP-U.S. marketing for Chevrolet.
Chris Perry, VP-U.S. marketing for Chevrolet.

Although J.D. Power & Associates rated Chevy fifth in its most recent U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index for mass-market brands, Power's research found that the brand ranked down the list for "waiting-area comfort" for service customers, and the variety of the store's inventory, said Jim Gaz, senior director-automotive retail research.

General Motors said that making its dealerships more approachable will help it to stand out. "The automotive retail advertising landscape is very crowded," said GM's global CMO Joel Ewanick. "You have to find a way to break through."

To achieve that , some of Chevrolet's 3,100 dealers in the U.S. have been asked to attend introductory training sessions at the Disney Institute in Orlando, Fla., and Anaheim, Calif., said Tom Henderson, spokesman for GM. Founded 25 years ago, the institute works with business clients to, as its mission statement says, "inspire business professionals to think and act differently."

Another component involves efforts to redesign many of the stores, including placing a "blue arch" -- no reference to McDonald's intended -- on the facades of renovated stores. It "provides a cohesive element for buildings of varying dimensions," said Teckla Rhoads, director, GM Global Industrial Design, which partnered in creating the motif. "This particular blue is a signature color for Chevrolet."

Chevy's emphasis on revitalizing its stores and the ensuing expense for store owners, as well as as has the emphasis on staff training, have led to some dealer "pushback," conceded Steve Hurley, co-chairman of the Chevrolet National Dealer Council. "But some who I never thought would come around are starting to," he said.

Mr. Hurley, who owns a Chevy franchise in Florida, said his renovation will cost about $2.5 million, with some of the funding coming from GM. "The cost can range from a half-million to more than $2 million if the facility needs a new building," he said. "It varies by dealer." Most of the renovations consist of cleaning, painting and generally sprucing up the dealerships to make them more inviting.

"Dealers recognize the need to upgrade, to provide them with a potential competitive edge," said Chris Perry, VP-U.S. marketing for Chevrolet. "But I guarantee we'll find some dealers that are hesitant."

The TV spots are intended to establish a fictional, user-friendly showroom where the customer is not only right but gets to sing and dance with the staff.

"My No. 1 goal is tackling what makes most people shake in fear," said Ralph Watson exec creative director of Goodby's recently established office in Detroit. "People fear being sold to. This is a nice way to say, "Well, it's not so bad.' I wanted to break ranks with the stagnant automobile retail advertising," he said. "I'm not trying to pretend this is entertainment -- Hey, look, I'm trying to sell you something. I'm not the first guy who had the idea to do a TV show about my product. But this is different."

"We're not setting up expectations that this is going to win an Emmy," said Mr. Perry. "It's a way to separate us in the retail environment."

GM's most popular division is looking to increase Chevrolet's U.S. market share by 13% this year, following last year's sales increase of 13.9%.

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