Exclusive Tour Of Tesla's Showroom With Apple's Retail Guru [Video]

Once upon a time, people didn't camp outside the local Apple Store just to sneak a peek at a jumbo iPhone (we're talking about you, iPad). But in the past decade since Apple opened its first store, the brand's retail identity has grown to outsized proportions—and sales have followed. Now George Blankenship, Apple's former retail guru, is trying to do the same thing for Tesla Motors. This week, Tesla unveiled its first Blankenship-designed showroom in San Jose, California (the company has 17 other locations, presumably less stylish, dealerships around the world). We can guarantee that it's different than almost any other car dealership you've ever seen.

Blankenship's first hurdle to success is a pretty monumental one. Tesla only sells one car (the Roadster), and with a base price of $109,000, it's not exactly a vehicle for the people. His solution: make the showroom look like an Apple store for cars. "It's designed to be clean, approachable, comfortable and exciting," Blankenship explains. Even if you could only afford a Roadster by mortgaging your house, you'll still want to check out the store; it has two enticing Roadsters in the middle, surrounded by jumbo touchscreens that allow users to digitally design and preview their future cars.

Gawking at the vehicles is encouraged, particularly by kids who might harass their very wealthy parents into buying a Tesla. "We want every six year old who comes in the store to come into the car," says Blankenship. That's something you wouldn't hear from the owner of a Porsche or Mercedes dealership.

Unlike every other car dealership in existence, the Tesla showroom is on a high-trafficked street in an upscale shopping neighborhood. Neighboring shops include Gucci, Salvatore Ferregamo, and Tumi. So pedestrians passing by the store might actually have enough money to buy a Tesla. And since a large portion of the population doesn't yet know what Tesla is, it makes sense for the startup to have a flashy showroom on a busy street instead of a sad dealership on the side of a highway. Test-drive vehicles are kept in a special Tesla parking facility behind the store.

The store is designed to be easily updated, too; the walls are covered in fabric panels that can be switched out to display new images when Tesla unveils the Model S electric sedan next year (or on that far-off day when Tesla releases a third vehicle). That same flexibility will allow each new showroom to have its own identity.

Will all of this transform Tesla into the Apple of the car world? Probably not. Tesla just doesn't have enough models to show off, and the world isn't ready to start snapping up electric vehicles like iPods and MacBooks. But one day, when Tesla releases cheap cars, we all drive electric vehicles, and the world lives in harmony, maybe everyone will do their car shopping in Blankenship-designed showrooms. Until then, we'll settle for some eye candy.

Coming Soon(ish): Tesla's Model X Crossover Electric Vehicle
An Inside Look at Tesla's Model S

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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  • Kim Svetich-Will

    wow. get rid of the dweeb trying to work the touch screen and sell this amazing machine...

  • Dean Laffan

    I couldn't agree more with Martin, the over-reliance on touch screens (oooh wow) is more like a tounge-in-cheek homage to 'hi tech' than true cutting edge. Let me guess ... do they give an 'interactive' CD-Rom to go away with ? Everything George walks us though on the touch screens, you can do with your mouse on just about every car site today.

    For sure Tesla should have cutting edge, Apple store type showrooms, but I think 'virtualising' the in store experience is a massive mistake. Since the Tesla is such a new paradigm for cars, it should all be about the REAL car.

    Sine they only have ONE model, it should be shown in a heap of different configurations. Have a dozen cars (all test drive vehicles) Show different colours, trims, wheels, etc. But most of all get people behind the wheel and driving them in the real world. THEN you can come back and play with body colours etc to personalise.

    Plus by having models on the floor in pre-configured kick-ass combinations, it's more likely people will order them as such and then you have some efficiencies in delivery and supply chain.

    These are real cars on real street, not Tron. (There's that retro technology angle again ! ;-)

  • A.J. Horst

    Tesla is doing all the right things with marketing. They are thinking completely out of the box when it comes to selling cars. When I was in enterprise technology sales a couple of years ago, they actually tried to recruit me as a sales guy. While I wasn't interested in that opportunity, I did give their recruiter a call because I was curious as to why they'd try to recruit me rather than some rock star car salesman. He explained how they were implementing a completely different sales model to provide a completely different car-buying experience. They didn't want to recruit traditional pushy car salesmen, but rather wanted to apply a consultative approach with employees who are tech-savvy.

    I wish them all the best.

    A.J. Horst
    president - 3Boost

  • M Lyon

    I think this is a fabulous concept for selling ANYTHING! Love the showroom, love the idea of creating your own car in the showroom! I think the marketing ramifications of this idea are just brilliant. I did design and order my Porsche online, but the idea of doing it right there in the "gallery" is just outstanding. OUTSTANDING! It is very well thought out! This could be the showroom/gallery of the future. For my business, it would have been a boon to sales had I been able to do this and put the artwork right in the client's home on a touch screen right in the gallery! Having people visualize their art in their home is a sales closer! So it will be for the Tesla! Great, Great, Great IDEA! Look out Tesla! You have another wizard in your company (besides your beautiful concept of motoring) and others will be looking to hire that person away!

  • Martin Elneff

    I can't really see what all the fuss is about. This seems pretty expected. And the feature where customers can customize their own car on a screen... Well, practically every other car manufacturer offers this on their websites. Did I miss something here?