Recently we reported on the closure MINI of San Francisco and what that foretells for other MINI dealers and the region. However the story is a bit more complex than you might expect. So we sat down with MINI USA’s Head of Sales Claude Bruni to better understand this closure and what plans were in place for SF region. We also wanted to find out how MINI USA handles dealer closures and regions affected. Finally we wanted to get a pulse on MINI sales and what lies ahead for the brand.
MINI of San Francisco serviced a massive market for the brand and MINI USA is well aware of how this closure could look. And for his part Claude was very transparent about the importance of the San Francisco market and the need to find a solution for those owners. “MINI USA is actively pursuing several options to maintain sales and service within the city of San Francisco. We’re also looking at creative ways support owners from a service perspective,” he added.
But MINI USA isn’t interested in just solving for the service of existing cars. “We’re looking to solve across both sales and service and find a model that bests suits our customers. We want to make it modern based on the needs of customers in the area,” Claude added.
Interestingly MINI USA is even thinking about alternative work models beyond the standard dealership. After hours service, pick-up and drop-off and even shuttling cars outside the city for service are all ideas that are all on the table. While there’s nothing yet to report, clearly plans are underway for a solve.
Claude continued, “This is a transition and not the loss of a dealer. We are committed to maintaining a presence in San Francisco.”
Why Do MINI Dealers like San Francisco Close?
While Claude or MINI USA won’t comments on the financial health of an independent dealer, we’ve heard from sources that the high costs of the city and an aggressive expansion into two buildings led to financial issues.
While San Francisco has the unique complexities of scarce space and high costs, it’s not the only area that has suffered a closure. MINI of Plano is another dealer that has recently announced it was shutting its doors. There the solve is a bit more straightforward, “we’re directing owners to the other dealers in the market for the time being”.
When I asked Claude about it and the few others he spoke about the need for MINI to maintain presence in key markets. But he was also realistic about the current automotive landscape. “70% of sales in the United States right now are trucks. The reality is that MINI is a niche product within a small market in the US. We’re not going to push volume at the sake of volume as other automakers do.” When I pressed him on overall MINI sales (and small cars sales) being down over the last few years he continued; “We want to build as many cars as we need for our customers. We want to focus on building the brand in a slow and methodical way in the United States”.
The Future of MINI Dealerships
No matter what happens in places like San Francisco, MINI is holding true to what a dealer should look and feel like. “In certain markets we’re allowing the coupling of MINI and BMW. However in areas where sales are higher we don’t see them integrating.”
“What we don’t want is for our customers to feel abandoned when there are these types of transitions. And if they have questions or concerns about a closure we’d love to hear from them directly”.
One thing that was very clear is that MINI USA is not looking to abandon key markets. Where they have closures they will be working to transition that market to other operators in the area.
Reason for Optimism at MINI Dealers
While sales were down last March, it’s a hard thing to judge given that there was a sales runout in March of 2018. There are some signs that point to a better second half of 2019. And in talking with Claude you could sense real optimism in his voice about what they have coming. The recent Countryman ads that pair the car up with a classic Mini rally car “appear to be working” he added.
Claude and the MINI USA team are looking at the second half of 2019 as a big year for the brand with a number of updated products and the introduction of the all electric MINI Cooper ES very late in the 2019. “We’re about to expand our offerings and we expect more customers to be interested in the brand in the months ahead. With these new products, we’re very optimistic we’ll be able to rejuvenate interest.
When I asked him what kind of production numbers and availability we’d see for the electric MINI you could see it was on his mind. Once the initial launch concludes, “I’ll make sure we get enough in this country to satisfy demand” he said smiling.