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Jaguar Is Talking Relationships

Luxury Car Maker Is Wooing South O.C.'s Elite Before New Dealership Is Built


Relationship marketing "is all about trust," says Barbara B. Stern, chairwoman of the marketing department at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "With these mega-millionaire consumers, you are dealing with people who demand what they want when they want it. . . . What these people seem to be saying is that they want to be nurtured and not left alone again. True luxury is not what you can buy, because everyone with money can buy stuff. It's in how you are treated."

As a result of community input, Jaguar has changed the dealership's design three times, making it smaller and more personal.

The original glass-and-stone approach was tossed in favor of a warmer Mission-style look. A host of high-tech sales gadgets have been discarded because potential customers--including some who head high-tech firms--said they wanted to see and feel real cars, not view them on computer terminals or on an interactive video wall that was to have let customers design a full-size image of the car of their choice from a point-and-click menu.

Finally, Jaguar moved up plans to open a boutique showroom in Newport Beach as a branch of South Coast Motorcars after hearing from the Newport Beach crowd that it wasn't about to go traipsing out of town to car-shop.

Customers will be able to view Jaguar models and order new cars at the boutique, and Jag owners will be able to drop their cars off there for servicing. (They will be shuttled to the main dealership.)

The decision has created a bit of controversy. Santa Ana-based Bauer Jaguar, Orange County's other Jag dealership, is protesting the Newport Beach boutique because it is within Bauer's marketing territory. Jaguar has said it doesn't believe the limited-service facility would violate California's anti-competition rules. A hearing by the state New Motor Vehicle Board has been scheduled for Aug. 10.

The flap with Bauer appears to be Jaguar's only misstep so far.

Odell says the company has nearly doubled its share of the luxury sedan and luxury sports car markets among coastal and southern Orange County residents since it began its marketing effort on behalf of South Coast Motorcars.

"We are close now to our national market penetration of 21.3% [in those two segments]," he said. The sales have benefited Bauer and other Southern California Jag dealers.

Jaguar's approach makes sense in this new "customer-centric" era, says relationship-marketing specialist Richard G. Barlow, president of Frequency Marketing Inc. in Cincinnati. "It appears that [Jaguar] has taken steps to really understand its potential customers and is adapting all of its presentations and packaging to meet the customers' perceptions and is seeding the market with pre-acceptance," he says.

A final score can't be tallied until the dealership opens for business and consumers can experience it firsthand. But South Coast fans such as Orange County business leader and philanthropist Thomas T. Tierney say the approach seems to be working well so far.

"South Coast Motorcars is marketing to a reasonably affluent community with access to a rainbow of options that are not available to many in the U.S.," says Tierney, founder and chief executive of vitamin products distributor Body Wise International Inc. in Tustin.

"We will go to the comfort zone where there is trust, safety and convenience, and [South Coast Motorcars] has been packaged so that we are pre-comfortable. It worked on me, and I'm a sales guy."


Relationship Marketing 101

Marketing specialists are touting an old business model: Let the customer do the driving. The campaign starts with building relationships and community ties by courting the tastes and opinions of potential customers.


* Build customer base by making consumers feel needed and appreciated.


* Regularly seek and use customers' input and criticism.

* Learn and use customers' names, product and service preferences, likes and dislikes.

* Support local charities, arts groups, schools, youth athletic teams.

* Show customers that they are valued--treat them to special discounts and perks, send birthday and anniversary cards, tip them off to upcoming sales.

* Build trust by keeping promises, honoring guarantees and believing that the customer is always right.

Sources: Barbara B. Stern, marketing department chairwoman, Rutgers University; Richard G. Barlow, chief executive of Frequency Marketing, Cincinnati; Deborah D. Heisley, assistant professor of marketing, UCLA Anderson School

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