Mercedes-Benz shifts the luxury car-buying experience into high gear in Canada
By Mark Faithfull
February 05, 2012
Photo courtesy of Philip Castleton, Toronto
The car-buying experience and car dealerships themselves, for that matter, don’t exactly have a good reputation among consumers. The process is often seen as daunting and less than pleasurable. But, Quantum Automotive Group aims to change all that by taking the dealership concept into the luxury arena with its latest Mercedes-Benz showroom in Canada.
Located in Burlington, Ontario, Canada—which occupies a high-profile position on the Queen Elizabeth Expressway connecting Niagara Falls with Toronto—the new showroom elevates the dealership concept to another level. Here, it is just as much about the buying experience as it is about the eventual purchase (much like buying a Burberry coat, Prada bag or other luxury good).
“The luxury retail concept was very much what Quantum had in mind,” says Nick Giammarco, partner at Montreal-based design agency GH+A. “If you think about all the excitement and glamour generated by the big international car shows, the act of actually going and buying an automobile can be a bit of a letdown. We wanted to change that and elevate the buying experience.”
Set over two floors and a mezzanine, the 63,000-sq.-ft. Burlington showroom is all about confounding expectations. An imposing, circular glass structure with a projecting, inclined entrance hallway makes the dealership architecturally appreciable, even from a distance.
In addition to an auto showroom and maintenance garage, Burlington includes a host of against-the-norm, pampering extras. It boasts a nail salon, a virtual golf range, an Italian café operated by a local restaurant and a screening area that relays not just Mercedes-Benz footage, but also, for example, Formula One grand prix racing.
“The whole idea of the environment is that it’s a place for everyone,” Giammarco says. “So, while there are customers actively looking to buy a new car, there are also people simply there to watch the racing, or to pop in and buy Mercedes-branded products. And all those people should feel equally welcome.”
Car models are featured along what GH+A Senior Associate Julie Dugas describes as the “automobile version of a fashion runway,” with new cars leading the way towards a concierge, whose job is “not to be a gatekeeper, but to direct people to the right part of the dealership.” At the heart of the interior is the Mercedes-Benz “clock tower,” which acts as the central anchor of the showroom, like a clock tower in a town square. The showroom itself is inspired by vehicle profiles and engineering precision, with sinuous curves and no hard edges. To reinforce the brand image, a subtle, two-story glass wall comprises small Mercedes logos laminated between glass.
Taking its lead from luxury jewelry shops, the retail area features display cases purposely placed at guest-interaction points and richly designed to showcase the branded merchandise. Corian has been used for its ease in achieving undulating shapes in the customer service and retail areas. Within the café, lounge, customer delivery and spa, durable white quartz was used for countertops. Highly polished, burled walnut is used throughout, reflective of the highly grained woods used in Mercedes-Benz interiors. Porcelain tiles with fine metal Schluter trims are integrated within the tile design and inside the glass offices, while linear listello-patterned wall tiles have been customized with glass inserts and chrome Mercedes-Benz appliqués.
Pre-owned cars are on the lower floor, visible from the upper level thanks to a large, contemporary circular cutaway and sweeping staircase. Beyond the ground-floor showroom, there is also a heated maintenance garage, visible through glass screens, so that customers can watch the cars being worked on in an environment as highly specified and finished as the main showroom. At the service area, traditional low-level desks have been replaced with a series of standing-level tables, partitioned for privacy, to help reduce queuing. The ability to see into the mechanics’ bays “reinforces transparency, while creating theater in the midst of the showroom,” Giammarco says.
The dealership typically showcases 40 new and 24 pre-owned vehicles, which are very much the star, Dugas points out. “But, by creating a transparent environment, with all the elements integrated, Quantum has something that gives customers the lifestyle relationship that is often missing from car showrooms,” she says.