MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Gorgeous to look at and lovely to touch

6185wpvvyjl_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_crop Gary Hamel, in his “Management 2.0” blog in the Wall Street Journal, references “Detroit-itis” to describe the failures of industries other than autos to use design to transform their products and, as a result, their industries, as Apple did.

We have a sense that "Detroit," as the representative term for the American automotive industry, has made significant but unrecognized advances in styling, in design, and in performance.

There may be many reasons why this is not yet acknowledged in Congress, in the press, and in consulting blogs, but there could also be a substantial reason in consumer perception. That is, shopping, buying, and owning an automobile in most cases still carries the stigma, if not the reality, of uncomfortable and unsatisfying experiences.

Apple's key transformation from similar cultures in the computer industry was not only with their product design and performance, but also in the retail experience. Apple's transformation includes an alignment of place with product in all of its aspects---the physical environment iterating the brand attributes, its people acting as consultants rather than salesmen, the Genius Bar elevating not only what is offered but also the status of the owner---and contributes to the perception of quality, the attribution of value to the brand, and the development of an enthusiast culture in the extension of the customer’s relationship.

And then there's the App Store. An extraordinarily exuberant marketplace formed around the iPhone created by Apple and suppliers who provide customized mini-modules fitting the iPhone platform, but selectable and customizable by any user.

There are at least six businesses inside an auto dealership—new car sales, used car sales, service, parts and accessories, finance and insurance. Individually and collectively they provide rich opportunities to Apple-ise the experience.

But as the market and products shift from the familiar conventions of internal combustion, to electric, hybrid and hydrogen propulsion systems, and as the “skateboard” potential of emerging vehicle architecture allows greater customization, what we call a car and who we are as consumers becomes very different. As new vehicles with new embedded technologies emerge, these legacy businesses may be joined by opportunities to engage differently in the dealership environment—to offer training, personalization, maintenance and upgrades, and other consulting services. These new businesses will provide a context for transformational retail models. Rather than simply a setting for objects, the dealership can become a place for an extended and satisfying experience.

The Apple model provides a great example to explore for a shift in who a dealer is and what a dealership looks like. It offers an opportunity to use physical and experiential design to draw car buyers for, as Hamel call it, “the sheer, stupid joy of interacting with something that was gorgeous to look and lovely to touch,” and more.

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