FARMINGTON HILLS, MI – Factory image (also known as facility assessment) programs and high manufacturer standards for dealerships are fueling a debate between dealers and manufacturers. This topic was at the forefront at the National Automotive Dealership Association (NADA) February 4-5 in Las Vegas.
For nearly a decade Morpace, an international marketing research and consulting firm, has been a leader in providing research for these programs, also known as facility assessments. There are clear benefits to these programs that extend beyond a short-term ROI evaluation. Delivering a consistent and positive brand position helps both the individual dealership and the manufacturer. They recognize that while there is debate over the value these programs provide dealers and OEMs, and whether they positively influence sales and customer satisfaction, there are clear benefits beyond cost and initial consumer feedback.
The recent findings by industry consultant Glen Mercer do support Morpace’s general findings about factory image programs, although his findings focus more on the image and standardization of dealerships, which are high-cost items, said Morpace Vice President Jason Mantel.
“Some manufacturer and dealer-initiated factory image programs extend further, into the functional and maintenance areas of dealers, which play an important role in customer experience as branding elements,” Mantel said.
Beyond just creating a consistent and recognizable look, dealers are looking for actions that get customers in the door, and then get them to stay.
External physical presence impacts the decision of consumers. According to a February 2011 Morpace Omnibus, two-thirds of consumers say they avoid a place of business if its external appearance does not appeal to them.
“Roughly one-third of consumers say they have steered away from a business because it ‘didn’t look like a place I would normally shop,’” Mantel said. “These consumers may not know why they didn’t want to shop there, but there was something about its appearance that gave them pause.”
Each manufacturer has their own vision for dealerships, and the most successful dealerships have a strategic plan and clear vision of what would attract the consumer. While some elements being measured in the dealership facility assessment compliancy programs may seem extreme, there are some elements worth measuring that truly matter in the customer experience, Mantel said, including:
- Clear directional signage for customers to find their way around the dealership
- Clean and comfortable customer areas that create a sense of feeling welcome
- Modern and relaxing areas where customers may spend more time, offering the comforts of home and amenities such as Internet access, magazines and a TV.
In the past, the benefits attributed to facility studies have included improved branding and high investment areas such as signage and significant renovation, Mantel said. As the visibility of these programs increases, simple improvements are being enacted that will also have a positive impact, such as simple maintenance, the refreshing of common fixtures and even environmentally-friendly processes.
Evidence in recent media reports suggests that dealers are more comfortable being a part of factory image programs that emphasize agreeable elements, “viewing them as more of an investment than a chore,” Mantel said.
“Scaling programs to fit stores of all sizes is important to engage more dealers, and large investments may be more of a challenge for some dealers. In our experience when dealers make facility improvements, customer satisfaction improves as well.
“Automakers are working to scale the programs to their dealer body, and recognizing the importance of this issue with incentives to the dealers, either in cash or reimbursements for improvements,” Mantel added. “Yet even while manufacturers are adding pressure on dealers to invest in their facilities, we see that dealers’ opinion of manufacturers is improving.”
The automotive industry is improving all at once – quality is improving, and the retail environment is changing faster than ever, Mantel said.
Automakers and dealers are working more closely than ever before to heighten the focus on what’s important in these programs. Ultimately the customer is the winner.
About Morpace Inc.
Morpace is a full-service survey research and consulting organization specializing in automotive, financial services, healthcare, retail and technology. Morpace provides global expertise and proprietary solutions in four core areas: brand and communications; consumer choice; market and product development; and customer experience management including satisfaction, loyalty and retention.
Morpace, an ISO 9001:2008 certified organization, is headquartered in Detroit with offices in Los Angeles, London, and Shanghai.