GIGAOM ROADMAP, SAN FRANCISCO — Back in 2000, no one wanted to buy Apple’s products. Steve Jobs realized that potential customers needed to see and play with Apple’s offerings before they could be persuaded to buy them. So he launched a chain of retail stores in malls across the country. It was risky, but it paid off handsomely.
Now Tesla, the electric car maker run by Elon Musk, is trying to do the same thing. Instead of a traditional dealership, Tesla is building a chain of car showrooms right inside shopping malls.
To build out the chain, Tesla tapped George Blankenship, Apple’s former Vice President of Real Estate, who helped to roll out Steve Jobs’ mega-successful chain.
Speaking at an afternoon session, Blankenship said the mall dealerships are proving irresistable to shoppers:
“They come in because there’s a car in there,” he said onstage at the Roadmap conference, “and then we’ve got them.”
So far Tesla has opened 17 showrooms in 10 states. Blankenship said Tesla is trying to re-imagine the way consumers buy cars, just like Apple did with computers. Instead of a traditional dealership on the edge of town, Tesla is bringing its revolutionary cars to stylish, consumer-focused showrooms.
As well as the unconventional location, Tesla is taking other cues from Apple.
The Tesla stores have big glass storefronts that make the stores open and inviting. They are staffed with knowledgeable, low-key experts who are there to answer questions rather than make a sale.
And of course, there’s the cars themselves.
“They have no idea it’s electric,” Blankenship told the Roadmap audience. “They pop the frunk (front trunk) and there’s nothing in there. They leave smiling, and then they want to do the same thing to their friends, so they bring them in.”