Out With The Traditional Car Dealership

Maserati is the latest automaker to reinvent the concept of car stores. New branch in Milan, Italy features new and traditional elements to offer customers an emotional experience

Maserati chose the historic Magenta district in Milan to open a car store with its new concept (source: Stellantis)

When you think of a car dealership, what image comes to your head? I will bet it is a huge one-floor store with an opulent entrance. Inside, dozens of shiny cars with open doors, hood, and trunk. Each one next to a small totem showing their main features and their price. Then again, you may not have time to envision all that because the salesperson would have only waited a second or two before approaching you.

The current model of car selling has been questioned for a long time now. The 2020 health crisis showed us how convenient online shopping can be. Luxury companies are always trying to stand out in the crowd. Generalist makers are always trying to cut costs, and so forth. Not to mention that no one likes having a salesperson incessantly try to convince you to make a purchase. Maserati is taking a step to change that.

The store features a “kitchen layout” with visual and tactile references to the company’s work (credit: Maserati)

How are car dealerships today?

The traditional business model aims to push cars outside as fast as possible. Dealers often build stores on the city’s outskirts because they want space. Space for people to park easily, space for the repair shop to accept many cars, and space to display many new cars. They know people do not visit the region often, so they do everything to retain each visitor and, subsequently, make them more inclined to close a deal.

Customers can directly interact with the options they have (source: Maserati)

Car dealerships also prey on people’s impatience. You can order your car just the way you want from the configurator. However, it takes time for the factory to make that exact order and for it to reach the dealer. The store keeps popular selections in stock to tempt you to settle for one in exchange for getting your car right away. That is a big reason why special editions or specific trim levels rarely sell well, by the way.

Another key characteristic is that, once one car dealership opens at a new location, a few competitors do the same right away. Once again, the goal is to make use of that customer’s visit to the region because it will be hard for them to go back there. In this case, bombarding them with options induces them to think “since I did not find anything good here, let me try that other one. It is right across the street, after all”.

Only a few actual cars will be on display at the Milan store (credit: Maserati)

What is the problem with them?

Old-school car dealerships concentrate huge facilities, many employees, and high stock volumes. The only way to cover such expenses is to sell as many cars as possible every day. The thing is, cars are not soap or bread. People buy cars expecting to keep them for years. They should not choose them as a daily errand, and the purchase process should not force them to buy like that. That is what Maserati contests now.

The store is filled with vintage items (credit: Maserati)

As the pictures show, the Milan store looks like a perfume or clothing boutique. It is a small building on a regular downtown street. Besides, the storefront only shows one car in front of a screen. And there is the best part in my opinion: there are no signs of prices, payment plans, item lists, or cliché slogans. The store is there, and the cars are there. If you want details, you can go inside and ask. It is as simple as that.

According to the interview done by Wallpaper Magazine, Maserati partnered with the Eight Inc agency to develop the new store model. The initial challenge was to make stores around the world more consistent with the brand’s values. When it comes to the new plan, Eight Inc CEO Tim Kobe says that the idea was to “move away from a ‘showroom’ to a ‘do-room’, a place we could have a dialogue, not a monologue.”

The Milan store has a minimalist front (credit: Maserati)

What does the Maserati dealership offer?

To use the company’s words, the room uses earthy colors to evoke the Italian countryside. The furniture is stylish but casual, designed by Cassina Custom. There is a “kitchen island” where visitors can get an Italian espresso, cold-pressed juice, or wine. There are several samples of materials which are applied to cars and even complete parts such as alloy rims. Everything is close to visitors and available for them to touch.

More samples of classic items (credit: Maserati)

By the time someone wants to discuss details of a specific vehicle, there will be large displays showing the company’s configurator with all the available options. The store even has private rooms for that, which is particularly important because of Fuoriserie. That is the company’s bespoke division, where customers can browse through a long list of specific options and order some of their own to further customize the car.

Maserati is also taking an opportunity to establish a stronger connection between online and offline sales experiences. Buyers can start the customization process at home and finish it at a store, book a virtual test drive, and request further information online. The company’s new business model will quickly spread through major cities around the world such as Berlin, Madrid, Shanghai and Tokyo over the next months.

Of course, the company would also display miniatures of iconic cars (credit: Maserati)

Maserati’s initiative is the latest one to encourage the car industry to update its sales strategy. While it is not applicable to all brands, it is definitely valuable in terms of redefining priorities. If more car companies take similar approaches, we can expect the process of buying a car to become more refined from several points of view. Would you like to see that change happen or do you prefer how things are right now?

Renault keeps celebrating the R5's fiftieth anniversary. Check out all about the Turbo 3E concept right here!