Today was the day I was finally going to indulge my long time love affair with the Smart Car. Task at hand: The test drive. Planned outcome: Place an order for one. Sounds simple, right? Not in the least. I drove all the way to the Smart Car dealership in San Jose, California on a mission from the eco-gods. When I arrived, the guest parking area was empty and the lot deserted. When I entered the building, there was a piercing silence (with the exception of some paper shuffling in the background). To my left was an attractive, green-eyed woman sitting at a desk, watching me intently but not speaking. (Hey, at least the place doesn't take the 'vulture' approach, right? This can't be all bad, or can it?)
I waited a few moments then finally asked (in my bubbliest of voices) "Is someone available to take me for a test drive?" The green-eyed woman perked up and replied, "Of course, but you'll need an appointment for that. Is there a good day and time that works for you?" to which I replied, "Yes, today and now." She laughed (not the least bit amused) and responded, "I'm sorry, but we don't have any openings today." (Is she serious!?) At that point, I was getting pissed and said, "Um, the place is empty. You have a slew of salespeople sitting around, nobody in the lot, and you need to sell cars. Am I missing something?" And you will never in a million years believe what she said back. "Well, that's just the way we do things here." (Can you say BEEEZOTCH?)
Now, I don't claim to be a rocket scientist, but I would like to pass along a few recommendations to the not-so-smart dealership. Perhaps they should consider making exceptions to their rules, like on a day when the place is empty and there are employees standing around. As a marketing professional and partner in a business, I understand that they want to keep people from just walking in and taking a test drive in the 'funny little 2-fer car' just for curiosity's sake. I also get that they want to give buyers a sense of scarcity (something akin to the Hermes Berkin Bag waiting list) but this is just bad for business.
Instead of turning people away, set up an education area (with a 20 minute video about how amazing the car is) or a Smart Car simulation vehicle (with fun little facts to keep people in the building). At the very least, they could put a big red sign on the door and/or website that says, "By appointment only" so people aren't taken by surprise. Needless to say, I didn't place an order for the Smart Car with the stupid dealership. I think I'll just wait for one to open up closer to home.