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Ford won't say what it's spending on the Lincoln training or on incentives to remodel its dealerships. But Mercedes and its dealers spent $1.6 billion over the last five years upgrading its 360 U.S. dealerships, says Harry Hynekamp, Mercedes' general manager of customer experience in the U.S.
"This work is literally never done. A box of chocolates isn't going to do it," Hynekamp says.
At Lincoln, the training has more urgency. Luxury buyers don't need to be convinced that Mercedes and Audi are luxury brands. But the Lincoln training begins with a stark warning: If you can't sell Lincolns to younger buyers, the business is at risk.
The training is already having an impact. A few weeks after the Chicago session, attendee Ryan Kolb greets a longtime customer coming in for service at Hines Park Lincoln in Plymouth, Mich. When the customer mentions he likes Kolb's Lincoln polo shirt, Kolb strolls into the dealership and gets him one.
Kolb's dealership — started by his grandfather — has been at this location since 1973, and so have many of his customers. Among the cars on the lot is a powder blue 1978 Lincoln Continental coupe, recently traded in for a new MKS sedan.
The dealership was remodeled last year according to Ford's specifications. It's light and airy, with private offices behind dark wood panels and small clusters of seating with sumptuous white leather furniture. There are fresh orchids at the reception desk and fresh cookies in the small cafe. The Lincoln scent is there, as well as 60 noise cancelling speakers hidden in the ceiling that drown out the noise from numerous flat-screen TVs showing golf and news. It looks like a luxury hotel, especially compared with the dated Cadillac dealer next door, where gaudy sale signs and stuffed animals dangle from the ceilings.
Kolb won't divulge what he spent on the renovations, but says the furniture cost more than his house. That irks some longtime customers, who have told him that he should have offered more discounts instead of redecorating. But other customers like the new space so much they come and meet friends here. Service appointments are growing.
"The best thing I hear people say is, 'It doesn't feel like a car dealership,'" he says.