“When you buy a Land Rover, you're buying a lifestyle,” says Bob Dover, the brand's chairman and chief executive officer.
But when you sell a Land Rover, you're buying into a system that places a premium on the dealer-OEM bond, insiders say.
“When we have meetings, we get a lot more than just lip service,” says Ray DiNardi, general manager of Land Rover Las Vegas. “You see change in the product.”
Like many automakers, Land Rover actively seeks counsel from its dealers. But not from a dealer council.
Says Howard Mosher, outgoing president of Land Rover North America: “We don't like the baggage that comes with that terminology. … Far too often, dealer councils are only considered successful by one side or the other if they actually extract something from the meeting or the process.”
So Land Rover established its “retail business forum” as a vehicle to carry messages from dealers to company decision-makers. Its six members — whose three-year terms are staggered to ensure timely turnover — set agendas based on dealers' concerns and conduct town-hall-type sessions, welcoming participation from principals and managers alike.
Oh, and Land Rover dealers are not called dealers.
“We refer to retailers as retailers, not dealers,” Mr. Mosher explains. “We talk about associates, not sales people or parts counter people. So we, sort of, create a model that supports the idea that this is a teamwork concept.”
As for the public sessions of the seven-year-old body: “They've started to get quite large, to the point where we have to be careful where we hold them to make sure the room's big enough.”
Adding to this dynamic is the “president's cabinet.” Composed of five or six people — some volunteer, others are conscripted — it functions like a dealer advisory board.
Says Mr. Mosher, “We have them sign a confidentiality agreement and we share quite a lot of future product information with these people and we get their reaction. We used the president's cabinet as a review mechanism for the proposed North American-spec Freelander.”
One inside story says the president's cabinet helped shape Freelander's interior.
“If you look at the European Freelander, you'll see that the instrument panel has quite a variety of different surfaces, colors and, in fact, the net effect you get from that is probably somewhat youthful and sporty,” Mr. Mosher says. “But it's also, to many eyes, very busy and chopped up.”
Enter Land Rover's president's cabinet. The result?
“We have monochrome,” Mr. Mosher says of North America's Freelander that just hit showrooms here. “It's clean. I think it's a little bit more up-market. And that was a direct reaction.”
But Land Rover doesn't blow hot and cold on consultation. Mr. DiNardi recalls when engineers brought Freelander to Las Vegas to see how it performed under Nevada's scorching sun.
He says, “They asked several people on our staff to drive 'em. Six weeks later, they're back with the same cars. They'd made some changes and wanted to know what we thought.
“That's the kind of responsiveness that I'm talking about. It was not, ‘Let's make you feel warm and fuzzy.’ They brought the car back and said, ‘Is this what you meant?’”
But the most visible features of Land Rover's sales system are focus and autonomy. No-haggle stickers help keep transactions focused on the product. Meanwhile, most sales associates have the autonomy to see deals from beginning to end.
Dealers told Land Rover their showroom sales staffs “spent far too much time negotiating price and far too little time explaining the product,” Mr. Mosher says, acknowledging one-price strategies have been tried before and the result pitted dealer vs. dealer.
“But we kept coming back to it to as the thing we needed to do to demonstrate to the customer that we weren't being traditional,” he adds.
In lieu of discounts, retailers sweeten deals with “valued-added kinds of things,” Mr. Mosher says. Free weekend car washes. Twice annual details. Charitable donations.
“We basically take the hex off the buying process,” he adds.
Jim Epting, F&I manager at Land Rover Seattle, has witnessed the system's impact.
He says, “From the meet, the greet, the sale, the delivery, F&I and waving goodbye, you're dealing with one person.
“You're not sent off to a closer. These guys and gals, they create a relationship with our people. I worked for Toyota for a number of years and people get out of their cars and they have that look on their face like, ‘Oh my God, I've got to buy a car.’ Well, we don't see that look here.”