“Go big or go home,” is a typical tact deployed by companies trying to keep ahead of the pack; but if you’re a Swedish car company, hailing from a land where streamlined design is a way of life, going “minimalist” only serves to enhance the customer service experience.
This is the philosophy of Newmarket Volvo, which unveiled the new Volvo Retail Experience (VRE) in their showroom last week. A first of its kind model in Ontario, and only the second VRE in North America, it is all about “creating an atmosphere of both luxury and comfort, and one that makes people feel like they are in their own living room,” says Marcel Algieri, President of Newmarket Volvo.
The new VRE is a blend of Scandinavian design and simplicity without being too ostentatious, he says.
Volvo created the program at their home base in Sweden, an initiative which included their exterior look, particularly an emphasis on glass, which evolved into a global image the company intends to roll out worldwide.
By the time the designs hit North American shores, the company retained a Canadian architecture firm to reinterpret the designs for the Canadian market, creating a template which was then left up to the individual retailers to embrace.
“We have been updating our facility over the last 12 years and the last piece of the puzzle for us was the showroom,” says Mr. Algieri, who has been with Newmarket Volvo for the past 18 years. “When I saw the new design, it was absolutely perfect for what we wanted. It was also something that was, in my eyes, very appealing, and I took the initial initiative to do this. It is a very customer-centric approach and the main focal point of our renovation is the customer lounge, which is probably five times larger than our previous lounge in the store.
“We have created a really pleasing environment for our customers to not only sit while their vehicles are being serviced, but also a place where they can relax – even if they’re sitting with one of our sales consultants – and it is a good area for them to interact with our staff.”
The designs, on first blush, were visually appealing without being overwhelming, he says. It also allowed them to maintain the unique character of their dealership, which is housed in Newmarket’s former Ontario Hydro building. It is a property peppered with nearly 150 trees – a unique feature for car dealerships across Aurora and Newmarket – and this is something they continue to embrace.
In fact, the only thing that held them back from implementing the VRE sooner was a discussion with the Town of Newmarket over the removal of one tree on the property standing in the way of making their dream a reality. As Volvo and the Town of Newmarket reached their conclusion, a Montreal Volvo dealership ultimately beat them by a small window to become the first in North America to roll out the VRE.
“We are able to retain our original building which, to me, is a big part of this community,” he says. “By adding the new elements and maintaining the original structure, we were able to stay within our limits of not demolishing and not destroying, and not changing things for the sake of change. I think that is important to our customers, especially our customers in Aurora and Newmarket who are very aware of their environment, their community, and everything we do. The biggest thing I heard from industry people [at the unveiling Thursday night] is they are really focused on image and having to be visible. They said, ‘It’s too bad you have all these trees. You can drive by here and not see the place.’ My answer to that is, ‘We actually prefer that. We’re not just a car company. We are entrenched in our environment and the trees help us tell the story of who we are and what our goal in life is: to look after our environment, as well as our product and people.”
While the new “consumer area” is the focal point of the showroom, eyes will also be drawn to a new line of Volvo product which was unveiled in Newmarket in tandem with the Volvo Retail Experience. The Volvo XC90 is the first of a new generation of vehicles coming from Sweden that represents the beginning of an $11 billion investment in the company by its new owners, Mr. Algieri explains.
“It continues our philosophy that by the year 2020 no one will be killed or seriously injured in one of our new Volvo products,” he says. “When I first heard that statement two years ago in Sweden I thought that was pretty bold.”
After seeing and driving the new vehicles, however, it confirmed to him they are well underway towards achieving that vision.
A hybrid model, it has a repositioned battery in the centre of the vehicle to create a low centre of gravity. It is smooth, quiet, efficient and powerful, with enough that it belies its four-cylinder engine. It has the performance of a sports car, he says, and the fuel economy of a much smaller vehicle, producing just 49g of carbon her 100km. A bevy of safety features are also on board including technology that brings you back in your lane, a steering wheel that vibrates if it detects you have crossed a yellow line, and cloud technology that will warn drivers of any dangers on the road as they approach.
If you hit black ice, for instance, the vehicle will beam this information to the cloud and beam back this information to any other Volvos on the road.
“What this product represents to us is what our future product range will be,” says Mr. Algieri. “It leads the segment in every category and it has the strongest structure of any car on the market today.”
Written by Brock Weir Photos by David Falconer