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USA:Mazda's revolution pampers customers

"Mazda wants the experience to be different than anything else you have seen when you purchase a car," says George Ewing, Sterling Mazda's general manager. He expects to double monthly sales with the new showroom.

Mazda's revolution pampers customers

Goal is to enhance the car-buying experience

By Eric Morath / The Detroit News

Daniel Mears / The Detroit News
Computer kiosks let customers research and compare vehicles and prices away from the sales desk.

STERLING HEIGHTS — The new, trendy shop on Van Dyke in Sterling Heights comes with complimentary coffee and muffins, a leather couch in front of a plasma screen TV and Internet-ready computers at every turn.

While customers can sip a cup of Joe and check personal e-mail, management hopes the slick new digs will encourage them to drive away in a racy new Mazda sedan or sports coupe.

Sterling Mazda in Sterling Heights is unveiling the new dealership today. It’s part of a new Mazda initiative called “Retail Revolution,” which is aimed at enhancing the car-buying experience.

Sterling Mazda is the first dealership in Michigan and seventh in the nation established under the program.

With U.S. sales up 18 percent this year, Mazda hopes to overhaul its 700 dealerships nationwide to maintain momentum and create a more customer-friendly atmosphere. It’s been more than five years since Mazda substantially revamped its nationwide dealer network.

The $3 million showroom should help more than double the dealership’s sales to 100 vehicles a month, General Manager George Ewing said.

“Mazda wants the experience to be different than anything else you have seen when you purchase a car,” he said.

Mazda is joining a larger movement toward ritzier car dealerships after years of pressure to upgrade by automakers. As Americans spend more and more for their new cars, they expect to be pampered with more service. Dealerships now offer customers everything from back rubs to putting greens.

“They realize people are drawn to those types of dealers,” said Steve Finlay, editor of Southfield-based Ward’s Dealer Business. “The psychology of making people comfortable and feeling they can trust you helps lead to sales.”

At Sterling Mazda, the black and gray walls are accented by fluorescent green, blue and orange paint. The 11-foot-tall ceilings and doorless showroom give the dealership an open, airy feel.

Another notable exception: A lack of cars on display in the showroom. A red, Miata convertible — perched in front of a wind tunnel-sized fan — greets customers at the door and is one of just three cars inside.

Abundant floor space has been dedicated to creature comforts.

The bamboo floors and soothing chairs in the mCafe are intended to invite customers to think about and discuss their purchases away from the sales desk. Inside the cafe, a Sony PlayStation 2 and steering wheel controllers offer a chance to race Mazda RX-8 coupes against other gamers online.

Five Internet stations let customers access independent shopping guides, such as, compare Mazda vehicles with competitors, check the dealership’s inventory or catch up on e-mail. When not surfing online, there’s the lounge equipped with a 42-inch television.

April Muniex of St. Clair Shores got a glimpse of the showroom under construction when she bought a new RX-8 a few weeks ago.

“It is a beautiful store,” she said. “It is modern and displays are incredible.”

At the heart of the new dealership is a commitment to better customer service, said Steve Boyce, Sterling Mazda sales manager.

“With all the incentives and zero-percent financing, a lot of other dealers have forgot about taking care of customer needs,” he said.

“We are not trying to push the customer into making one purchase today. We want to set up a relationship where we bring them back for the next 10 sales.”

The 14,850-square-foot dealership and service center replaces a temporary store on the same property where Sterling Mazda operated over the past two years. The old shop, which still resembles the furniture showroom it once was, will house Sterling Kia until that dealership is completed next door.

Finlay expects Sterling Mazda to get a boost from the “Retail Revolution” format.

“It appeals to virtually everyone, but certainly to the coveted young shopper that all the dealers want, and Mazda has,” he said. “What Mazda has done seems to work. It doesn’t look real kooky, but it is lively.”

The bamboo floors and soothing chairs in the mCafe are intended to invite customers to think about their purchases.

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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