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Summary:

Designing a store that’s not about selling products, but is instead about delighting and engaging with the customer may be the future of retail if George Blankenship of Tesla Motors has his way. Blankenship shares his retail vision honed at Apple and at Tesla.

In the future brick-and-mortar stores will be fun and exciting places to visit, and most ordinary commerce will be done online, according to George Blankenship, VP of worldwide sales at Tesla Motors, who spoke Monday at the GigaOM RoadMap event in San Francisco. Blankenship, who also designed Apple’s retail stores, explained that products that don’t require customer education and engagement will move online, and the remaining stores will look more like the Apple or Tesla experience.

However, creating this experience isn’t easy. In a video played before his talk, Blankenship explained that at Apple they built four different versions of the store before they hit the right formula. And even getting to that point wasn’t easy because the world — namely in the form of landlords — wasn’t ready to buy into the Apple vision. Blankenship said he would ask malls for 50 feet of frontage space with no columns in the central courtyard of a mall and the landlords would scoff, “We’re not putting a 7,500 square-foot Radio Shack front and center in our mall.”

When it comes to Tesla the list of written and unwritten rules can define the company and change the way it does business. Blankenship referred to having to operate the Tesla store in Colorado differently on Sundays than it does every other day of the week because of state laws (I assume Colorado has rules about dealerships staying open for 7 days a week). But Tesla works within those rules to deliver an engaging experience for the customer — or future customer.

“It’s a store not designed to sell anything, it’s designed to make people want to come back,” said Blankenship.

Check out the rest of our RoadMap 2012 live coverage here, and a video recording of the session follows below:

  1. Apple sells products on line *and* in retail stores, and yet their retail stores are crowded. That shows that the brick-and-mortar stores don’t have to be killed by online sales, if the the brick-and-mortar stores are willing to make whatever changes they need to make. But if they moan about “showrooming,” or allow landlords to block their plans, or get stuck in traditional ways of thinking, then there’s a good chance the stores’ business will decline.

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    1. You’re over-simplifying. Apple stores sell their….own brand. And a very high-priced own brand with fairly rigorous devices for making sure that any resellers’ discounting practices do not cut into Apple’s wholesale take.

      You cant make an analogy from this to 3rd party stores such as dept stores, best Buy etc, which all rely on their people’s brands that can be found anywhere and everywhere. In fact its intellectually dishonest to make that analogy.

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    2. Apple sells a complex line of products, with some variations not carried in their stores. I’ll visit our local Apple store to see a new product, such as a new MacBook Pro. Then I’ll go online and order it from Apple’s web site. Invariably, I’ll discover product options online that were not mentioned in the store display.

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  2. Brilliant take. We stop by the Apple store when we’re nearby just because we enjoy interacting with the staff and seeing the latest things, even if we don’t buy. Delight is a brilliant strategy.

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  3. Blah blah blah…..How about getting a Tesla “store” open in Atlanta Mr. Blankenship….I have had a constant problem with my right front tire in my BRAND NEW 5 YEAR WAIT LISTED ROADSTER and now I have to wait another few weeks to get my tires balanced under warranty. I do not care what you store looks like, I just want my expensive ass car performing well when I drive it!!!! Denise Cole, Alpharetta GA!!!!

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    1. Are you stupid ? Go too your local workshop too fix that !

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    2. Denise: How did you wait 5 years for your Roadster? I thought orders started in 2006 and they started delivering in mid 2008? Have you called Tesla service?

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    3. I’m calling BS on this comment. The facts don’t add up.

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    4. Yes. This is obviously made up. There is no way you waited 5 years to get your Roadster (which I doubt you even own).

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  4. I think the older way of thinking is what drags down otherwise good stores like Best Buy. If they approached their store from the stand point of “lets make everyone want to come here to look and smile” they’d have a better time. Better yet, have an exclusive BB website to buy the things in stores with a discount if you went to the store. Make it small, make it flashy, get people in and change minds- not necessarily get dollars. Blankenship has fundamental marketing sales ideas that blow away years of accumulated assumptions and bad practices. Just like stores need new managers once in a while to shake things up, the industry need people like him to change things.

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