The cult brand experience

The Audi showroom in Delhi.

The Miele Experience Centre.

Mr Romesh Sapra, Audi’s consultant architect.

Mr Dhananjay Chaturvedi, Managing Director, Miele India.

Luxury brands such as Audi and Miele have taken the art of selling to a different level with their experience centres.

This certainly takes things a few notches above mere window-dressing. We are talking experience centres, where customers are pampered, wooed and waited upon in an impressive setting.

The kind of experience that Apple lays out at its iconic stores in the US, where everything is connected and customers are encouraged to touch and feel; where geeks can spend an entire day at the geeks' corner, undisturbed and unbothered, where even a child can get hooked and completely immersed in the world of Apple.

The Apple experience is yet to reach India, but two German luxury brands — Audi and Miele — have perfected the art of soft persuasion and high brand recall by creating the right ambience by laying out similar experiences.

If the Audi showroom is a black-and-white marvel that gives customers the simulated feel of vrooming off in the cult car, then at luxury home appliances brand Miele's experience centre, customers can literally get a gourmet meal out of the visit.

A walk through the two showrooms shows how companies are now investing time, effort and money in making the brand feel and experience start right at the store.

Making a Miele out of it

The Miele Experience Centre in Delhi is a ‘by invitation' destination only. “We could have chosen to put up our centre on the high street in South Extension to get high footfalls,” says Dhananjay Chaturvedi, Managing Director, Miele India. But instead, the firm has opted for out-of-the-way Jasola, tucking the showroom discretely away amidst corporate complexes. Reason: its high-profile clientele — actors, politicians, industrialists et al — can come in without anybody noticing.

As soon as you enter the showroom, with its uncluttered sleek ambience, you are taken back in time as the Miele refrigerator from the 1930s and vacuum cleaner from the 1940s greet you.

Founded in 1899 by Carl Miele and Reinhard Zinkann, Miele continues to be a family-owned and -run company, and is very conscious of its heritage. You learn that its first products were a cream separator and a butter churn. In the 1940s it made a few cars and bicycles but went back to what it was best at — appliances.

When Miele started putting up these fancy experience centres across the globe, it went around tracking its early products and actually bought the period items back from customers.

These are now displayed here as well as in a museum in Germany.

The contemporary section has you gasping — both at the beauty and innovativeness of the product as well as the price tag. A wardrobe-like refrigerator, Master Cool, can set a customer back by Rs 20 lakh. Another refrigerator has an ice cube box that connects to the RO system and a sensor detects when the ice tray needs to be replenished.

From wine conditioners (Rs 2.15 lakh) to pedal-operated ironing systems (Rs 1.6 lakh) and washing machines that promise that even a rose will not get damaged in the cycle, you get to touch, look and see how the appliance works. At the coffee machine section, the chefs materialise and actually serve you a dream of a coffee latte — putting in the beans fresh, grinding it and then layering it first with milk, then the froth and finally the coffee.

And finally you end up at the kitchen counters — where a gourmet meal with perfectly matched wines awaits you. Miele does its homework well when it invites potential customers and serves a meal which it knows will tickle their taste buds.

For instance, Chaturvedi describes an occasion when Miele's dealer in Gujarat called him to say a foreign-returned customer in Ahmedabad wanted five Miele products. He at once asked the dealer to send the customers over to Delhi for a visit to the experience centre. “We know Gujarati tastes fairly well and we laid out a meal we thought would please them,” he describes. At the end of the visit, he says, the couple bought 11 products costing a total of Rs 44 lakh instead of the five they intended, that would have cost them just Rs 10-15 lakh.

“An experience centre is a powerful tool that a brand can possess. It helps in cross-selling and up-selling,” he sums up. It cost Miele nearly Rs 5 crore to set up this experience centre, but Chaturvedi says the amount of goodwill it has garnered in the one-and-a-half years it has been around has made the investment worth it.

Miele has almost similar experience centres in nearly every country it operates in. Given the good response from Delhi, Miele is contemplating opening one more experience centre in India, either in Mumbai or in Bangalore.

For the Audi audience

On the choked and busy Mathura road crossing that takes you to Faridabad, there are a host of car showrooms standing cheek by jowl. But it's the distinctive honeycomb aluminium-fronted Audi showroom with its cars showing through on the first floor level that makes you take a second look.

Inside, the interiors spread over 16,200 sq ft of area over two levels have an attractive European feel — the black-and-white showroom replicates the curves and turns of a car or a track. It's a rather cunning design with the walls sloping forward on one side giving a simulated feel of the cars getting ready to take off.

The car display area and the customer interaction areas are very well-defined — while the cars stand on black tiles, the customer area is all white.

Audi's ponytailed consultant architect Romesh Sapra, who takes one on a walkthrough of the premises, says that the German carmaker is rigid about following the same CICD — corporate interior corporate design — in every country, and every single light, tile, furniture, fixture in the showroom has been sourced from abroad to maintain the uniformity. Almost €2 million was spent on the showroom.

More than half-a-dozen cars are displayed on the ground level with the open-top Audi R8 Spyder (which costs around Rs 1.4 crore) hogging the spotlight. Near the highlight platform on which the Audi supercar stands is a highlight television screen on which the company's promos and the Spyder's vital statistics are playing out.

Near each car, Sapra points, there are stands with all the details of the exhibited car, so that customers can go around without salesmen intruding. “This is what we call a silent salesman,” he says with a grin.

A cafeteria, a play area for kids and a separate car handover area enhance the showroom experience. “There is a proper handover ceremony”, says Sapra, taking you to this area. Nearby is the customisation arena. Here on a large panel, colour and interior finish options are displayed.

An escalator takes you up to the next level where again cars are exhibited and behind this is the champagne and wine counter — though as yet the bubbly is not there! “In Europe and elsewhere we serve wine to our customers, but here although the place is equipped for it, we don't do it,” says Sapra.

And is this experience helping the cars move? “ H ans ke bikhta hai gadi (it sells very easily),” says Sapra.

Gaining brand value

Brand consultant Giraj Sharma says that such experience stores add phenomenal value to the brand experience.

“The value system of a cult or a luxury brand cannot be showcased in a casually done-up or a multi-brand set-up. To make the customer fully aware of the aura that goes with the brand, you have to do it in this fashion,” he says.

Worldwide, Sharma says, Harley Davidson showrooms too offer a similar experience — “They have a Harley café and a small gallery with accessories,” he points out.

From the customer perspective, he says, when you enter such an experience “the value system gets more prominence than the functionality of the product. The core value gets heightened and totally detached from the functionality. That is what hooks you on.”

As he says, you won't buy a Rolex for the accuracy of the watch, but because it's a Rolex.

Published on July 20, 2011
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