California Saab dealer John B.T. Campbell III and Saab Cars USA Inc. are a mutual admiration society.
Saab wanted Campbell to build an exclusive dealership, and Campbell wanted Saab to help pay for it. Both got more than they dreamed.
Campbell is building a stunning $2.5 million showcase in Santa Ana, Calif., with its own mini-forest of birch trees, a slot-car replica of Saab's factory test track in Sweden and fine crystal
and china for the coffee lounge.
'There won't be a paper or styrofoam cup in the whole place,' Campbell bragged last week.
In return, Saab is lending Campbell nearly half the $2.5 million, interest-free.
John Orth, Saab vice president of sales and marketing, said about 20 dealers so far have taken Saab's offer of zero-interest loans in return for exclusive stores.
There is more to the strategy than just no-interest loans. Saab also has increased the number of sales per dealer by boosting volume and by cutting the number of U.S. dealers. Sales per dealer were about 144 last year. The near-term goal is 200.
'There are basically two sets of dealers,' Orth said at the convention. 'The brand-new one coming in has a new dealer agreement, and they know if they are going to open in this area, they know they will need to meet the 'RED' program, for Retail Environmental Design.'
What about old-time dealers? Said Joel Manby, president of the U.S. subsidiary: 'We have to sell them on the idea.'