Customer experience for an ultra-luxury brand is all about events

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Customer experience is important to all dealerships, but with ultra-luxury brands that takes on a unique dimension. Ultra-luxury brands rely on exceptional events that create and maintain a sense of community among clients and bond them to the dealership. Such bonds are crucial to a dealership’s success.

“The value of these businesses is not exclusively about the bottom line,” Savannah Simms says. “It is also about the community you build around them.”

Simms, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Simms Auto Group in Northern California, was General Manager of McLaren San Francisco. Now, in addition to her role at the Simms group, she consults about customer experience for ultra-luxury dealerships across the country.

“What customer experience meant was the people,” Simms says of her time with McLaren.

A new car can take up to two years to arrive, Simms explains. In the interim, a dealer must keep the customer engaged not just with the brand but with the dealership.

Once they have the car, a dealership needs a customer to return for service. With an ultra-luxury brand, that means more than just bringing a car to the store’s service department. Her service crew was available for customers’ needs around the clock for any concern, big or small. Simms says. “It was the most tight-knit customer base I have ever experienced,” she says.

The customer relationship also is crucial because “you want that car coming back into your store as used inventory,” Simms says. It is not uncommon for a dealer with great customer retention to sell the same vehicle more than three times in its lifetime.

Being part of customers’ lives also allows a dealer to know what other ultra-luxury cars are in a customer’s collection, and to understand their order cycle, Simms says.

All this information strengthens a dealer’s relationship with the manufacturer as well, which in an ultra-luxury franchise goes far beyond good CSI scores and a nice website.

There are very few ultra-luxury cars produced so allocations are very limited, Simms explains. The number of cars allocated is generally based on what a dealership has done previously. Customer allocation can be influenced by the length of ownership and their servicing habits.

With some manufacturers in the ultra-luxury space, attending manufacturer and retailer events can have a positive impact on the chances of scoring a highly sought-after allocation. It is all about client engagement.

“The more involved you are with the brand the more likely you are to receive an allocation,” Simms says.

But it is still hard to control how many new cars your dealership will be able to sell because the number of possible allotments is so limited, she says.

“If you are a new dealer, it is going to take time to grow. Put your effort into your customer engagement and experience. If that is partnered with more traditional, successful retail strategies, you will grow.” Simms says.

The used business, on the other hand, can be more heavily influenced by the dealer, and that means tying your customers as close to your store and the brand as possible. Besides trade-ins, a close relationship often results in a customer consigning their car to your store to sell.

“We had a very healthy consignment business. That is due to the long-term relationships the team had built over the years,” Simms says.

McLaren’s 60th anniversary

McLaren San Francisco often hosts track days at the area raceways including Laguna Seca in Monterey. In 2023, Simms hosted one of the largest McLaren track days in North America when some 55 owners participated.

As the first female McLaren General Manager in the history of the brand, Simms wanted to create customer events unlike any other. The brand itself was extremely inclusive in a very exclusive part of the industry and Simms says she felt events were an opportunity to tap into that feeling.

“We had a diverse client base so creating spaces where everyone was comfortable was important to me and ultimately it was important to them.” Simms says.

Beyond getting more female clients engaged in track activities, an even better example of how Simms and her team created an exceptional customer experience was the execution of a unique project to honor the 60th anniversary of Bruce McLaren’s founding of the brand.

While McLaren was between models and preparing to launch the 750s model at Monterrey Car Week, McLaren San Francisco needed to find a way to stand out and think outside the box. Before the event, the team delivered wine, tumblers, and branded gear to get them revved up. McLaren San Francisco hosted events all week long including a McLaren Owners brunch.

But Simms also worked with Olivia Cleary, founder of The Clearly Collective, to design a Hermes-inspired silk scarf/pocket square with a custom design that highlighted the famous Laguna Seca Raceway corkscrew. The design noted the delicate details of the track, the current models in the lineup, and the notes of the overall brand that often go unnoticed. It provided an opportunity to humanize the brand and was a unique gift to our clients that money can’t buy, Simms says.

“Many of our customers appreciated the effort and thought that went into the project,” she says. “We did a limited order of 60 units to keep in line with the theme of the 60th anniversary, and they were not available for sale.”

Inquiries online to buy the scarves continued to roll-in even though they were not for sale. And McLaren continued to engage with those customers or potential customers.

With ultra-luxury brands, it is important to remember your community extends beyond the showroom, Simms says. “While followers online may not be clients today, having them engaged and drawn to your brand is important long term,” she says.

On a smaller scale, while at McLaren San Francisco, Simms stocked her office refrigerator with her customers’ favorite beverages. And for one customer, who came to the store weekly, they worked together to design custom streetwear.

“Clients will share their ideas and what resonates with them. In this instance, we worked together to design a line of apparel that spoke to them. We picked the supplier, and we were both engaged in the process from start to finish. They want to feel a part of it. We just need to listen and execute,” Simms says.

Working closely with clients is important across all price points and she carries that lesson to her current position with Simms Auto Group, she says. “Listen to your clients and be creative in the solutions you provide. Massive impact can be made with very little investment.”

This article was written for Getting to Go, a buy/sell newsletter from Scali Rasmussen.