MEREDITH Strategy & Design

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Filtering by Tag: Business and Economy

10 more ways to jump-start the auto business

600-muscle I have only done a very quick scan of the article, "25 Ways to Jump-Start the Auto Business," in a recent Fast Company issue. But I am impressed by the fact that out of the 60 people in or close to the industry who were asked to contribute ideas only one, it seems, looked to the intersection between design/production and consumer/consumption.

Even though the experience of buying and selling cars has already changed radically in the Internet age, the lingering stench of going to the dealer remains and many experts see room for improvement. "We need to allow manufacturers to sell cars over the Internet," says Jack Gillis, author of The Car Book. "Linking the purchase process to 'just-in-time production' will start to remove the tremendous inefficiencies in the distribution channel and increase their ability to estimate demand." And it might also make buying a car, dare we say it, fun.

I have been critical, as many, about the American component of the industry, but I also believe that a key issue is that most people cannot break through paradigms about design and quality that are, in reality, a decade out of date. The financial crisis also obscures the fact that there are great products being generated that are getting the right kind of attention from a younger generation of potential buyers. What's missing is not so much a remake of the designs, not so much the quality, not so much the industry itself, but a lot about the interface between these companies and their customers. Almost everywhere else in our world, people are paying close attention to the interface between production and purchase. There is a heightened focus on customer service, the retail experience, and brand protection.

If we look at what others are doing, we might get a few clues about what to do here, as well. Some of these might be-

1. Stop screaming-We are not motivated by the screaming ads placed by local dealership groups. This is such a predominant style of communication that it affects our perception of the quality of your products and of the entire industry.

2. I'm an American, but not that kind of American…why do you make us resist buying that truck we want for the work it will do for us?-It's about utility, isn't it; not about patriotism and living in the country and dominating everybody around us. And stop screaming.

3. Why do you think we do all of our research on the Internet instead of in your dealership?-You know the statistics. We avoid you like the plague and make all of our selection decisions before walking into the dealership, where, again, the only thing that matters is the deal. Isn't there some value to you in making our relationship more robust, more complete, longer lasting, mutually interesting?

4. It looks like your web sites are intended to be a starting place for our relationship; you should design them to do that-We want simplicity, clarity, efficiency and speed. And a follow-up when you say that you will. And why not give is the same or better information we can get through 3rd party sources-We get specs, prices, availability from other sites, and you know we do, so why not offer it to us yourself? We might like you, and trust you, more.

5. We're really interested in the product, can we suspend the deal for a few minutes?-Money matters a lot to all of us these days, but transforming your company and your industry means we should first be interested in wanting to know more about you and your products and services. But we can't see through the deal clutter.

6. We am going to spend a much longer time with this vehicle-It looks as though everything from the economy to manufactured quality will mean that this vehicle is in our garage for a few years. How will you make us interested in what you have to offer over that time? How will you design the experience to make our extended relationship mutually valuable?

7. Redesign the sales process to become a respectful buying experience and an expression of an interest in a long-term relationship-Clean up your desk; this transaction is about us, not about you. Redesign the finance and insurance process; get rid of 75% of those forms most of which look like 25th generation Xeroxes. Get the sales manager to give you some authority to conclude the deal yourself. We'd like to walk out feeling pride in our purchase, whole after the transaction, and interested in coming back for the updates.

8. Think through the design of your store to promote the quality and value of your product-If your product is so great, of such quality, then become a member of the community. Plan your site to not be a blight. Give us a great experience driving by, and driving in. We might then leave your license plate frame on.

9. Really great brands connect the retail experience and the product experience-It seems you are trying to say, "Look! Look! Look at me!!!" Try designs that invite us to explore what you sell.

10. Partner with or influence others in the community who have something to do with the auto, too-We wonder what might happen if the makers and sellers of cars, realizing that the older sense of the car being part of the culture was valuable, would work together with the entire services chain to make ownership and use a delight. Start with gas stations, for example-why do these things have to be blindingly lighted, for example, so the only thing we see as we drive by is an under-canopy array of ugly bare light fixtures. It's called light pollution and we believe it decreases the property values and security in my community. Think about your product in a broader cultural context.

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Making working visible

making-work-visible_1791_002 There are at least two levels of invisibility in my town, two layers of its cross-section where you have to struggle to find signs of life. There is an upper layer-the anonymous and blank windows of the high rise office towers-and a lower layer-empty retail shops and lobbies reflecting the level of occupancy of the floors rising above them.

Colleagues are now in the midst of the periodic ritual of designing infills for empty storefronts in the CBD. The first of these that I remember occurred back in the early eighties. It was a joint venture sponsored by the local architectural professionals and the local artists market. Reasonable successful as a promotional event, artists filled up empty shop windows in the shadows of the GM headquarters, where Saks Fifth Avenue had long served the city and finally pulled up for the suburbs. Their works seemed delightfully in the right place, numbered for reference in the weeks-long auction that took place while they were on view.

In an interim attempt to clean up the city for some event that might draw visitors here from other places, the city commissioned decals for the upper windows of many of the downtown buildings to attempt to convey a sense of life and occupation in the ever declining city. Scenes of curtained windows and table top lamps to be viewed by the "people mover" that cruised the unpopulated city at the second and third floor levels, the program was met with more derision than appreciation, and caused more attention to the reality that it attempted to mask.

More recently, when the Superbowl came to town a couple of years ago, the local architects and contractors teamed up under the auspices of the downtown business association to fill up shopfronts with some form of creative construction. Some baldly promotional and off-purpose, and others only half-heartedly committed, they were left to decay shortly after the event and, as the earlier attempts, contributed to the sense of abandonment.

Another initiative is now in the works. As I watch colleagues prepare their submission, I have too much memory of the past to become enthusiastic and supportive of the present, already seeing the future.

But their work got me thinking. I propose an inversion of the city's cross section, or at least a partial inversion. I want to make work-that is, working- visible. What is up should come down, what is down should become real.

The abandonment of storefronts in the city is caused by the fact that the offices above them are so lightly occupied that the market for the amount of retail space in the city is unsustainable. Preservation of these spaces as "storefronts" under a fantasy of retail restoration only perpetuates, maybe accelerates, decay.

Upstairs, invisible to the world, are the remnants of corporations, professional firms, and others who have maintained their place in the city. Who they are and what they do and how they contribute and why they are here-is invisible. These are lonely places. Nobody shares an elevator with you. Walking the halls stirs uneasiness, wondering who else might be there who should not be there and wondering why you are. We squeeze in under low ceilings and look out of small windows from ever-shrinking space.

I want to move downstairs. I want to be in expansive spaces with high ceilings. I want to be in light filled spaces where high windows bring sunlight deep into the interior. I want to have a reason to put what I do prominently on display. I want to look out and see people, maybe even greet people, rather than look across to an unoccupied building across the way, or down to the streams of people leaving the city.

So, I propose that landlords reconsider the use of their buildings, that brokers reconsider how they promote space and to whom, and I propose that everybody left upstairs goes downstairs. There just might be enough of us to fill up the ground level of all of our buildings. And if we did we'd have a city that is alive. We would see who is here. We would see the work we all do. We would get to know each other better and probably collaborate with each other more frequently. We'd build energy from our own activity and reinforced by the visible activity of others.

The upper floors of our buildings would remain anonymous and invisible and, for the moment, irrelevant. But the ground floors would be lighted, active, visible, productive, energizing, and more than sustainable.

3/24/9 This just in

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