Can a hamburger sell a new car? "At , it could," says Jeff Skobin, marketing manager at the sprawling Galpin Motors complex, which includes a diner, at the corner of Roscoe and Sepulveda Boulevard in Van Nuys, California.
What about a fruit smoothie? "No," says A.J. D'Amato III, sales manager for pre-owned vehicles at Newport Lexus in Newport Beach, California. "But, the people making that smoothie might [sell a car]." More than ever, dealerships are going to great lengths to provide a little something extra that will keep the customer happy and, perhaps more importantly, hanging around in the store. The thinking is the longer you stay, the more likely you are to buy. The extras have the added effect of creating a positive experience. An espresso, a meal, or even a haircut can keep a dealership at the top of prospects' minds.
Beyond having an on-site café selling healthy fare and potent espresso, is pet-friendly and even offers complimentary airport parking for Lexus owners traveling from nearby John Wayne Airport. During business hours, they'll drop you off, pick you up, and wash your car, all free of charge. "We always ask ourselves, 'What more can we give?' " says D'Amato. "The valets. The car-wash guys. It's really their personal touch that makes the difference. And they're not trying to hard-sell anybody on anything."
Galpin Ford, for its part, has an on-site car museum, and its has served customers for almost 50 years. Its first ever in-dealership Starbucks has been at it for 12. Skobin explains, "In [vehicle and] customer-service surveys, the restaurant comes up a lot." It's difficult to quantify, but making the dealership a place that's about more than just selling cars might just sell more cars. In fact, Galpin has been Ford's top volume dealer for the past 24 years.
As the old saying sort of goes: Once you have them by their stomachs, their hearts and minds will follow.
Right: Chef Geovanni Euceda
Reviewing the Restaurant at Galpin Ford
More than a greasy spoon for grease monkeys, the Horseless Carriage restaurant sits adjacent to the largest Ford dealership in America. Frank Galpin opened Galpin Ford in 1946 in California's San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles; the next owner, Bert Boeckmann, added the Horseless Carriage in 1966 as America's first dealership-based restaurant. It's a concept the rest of the dealer world has copied and embraced—create a positive experience and car-buying won't seem as nightmarish.
At the Horseless Carriage, time seems locked in first gear. Parts of the menu—like house-made tapioca, Jell-O with whipped cream, malted milkshakes, and battered and fried zucchini (accompanied by homemade dressing)—pair nicely with the Mad Men ambience. Turquoise leather banquettes, a Formica-topped lunch counter, and floral glass chandeliers hearken back to the diners of the space-race era. After draining a malted, it's surprising to exit through a showroom of , , and instead of Thunderbirds, Fairlanes, and Falcons.
However, chef Geovanni Euceda (formerly of the Beverly Hills Hotel) makes a chili-garlic tiger shrimp linguini that might have you forgetting you're surrounded by 50 acres of sheetmetal, lost in a time before anti-lock brakes. With a menu focused on freshness (house-trimmed and -cut steaks, for example), the restaurant's highlights include the Mustang Burger, which is a half-pound beef patty drenched in chili, onions, and cheddar cheese served open-faced in a ceramic boat. The coconut cream pie is made fresh each morning, and the lobster-and-eggs breakfast is a steal at $12.
The popularity of the Carriage extends beyond nervous, prospective car buyers. Locals come in from the palm-lined streets of the surrounding San Fernando Valley for daily lunch specials, and regulars line the counter every morning. They take their usual seats, submit their usual orders, and await service from their usual waitstaff. Guess where they're coming to buy their next car.