Late last year, BMW of North America opened a pop-up store in a California mall occupied by high-end retailers -- its first temporary store in the United States.
BMW did it quietly, without the usual national fanfare over a new program. For four months, the BMW Gallery in the South Coast Plaza mall in Costa Mesa showcased a car -- initially the i8 plug-in hybrid sports car -- in an eye-popping environment featuring neon lights, large flat screens for configuring cars, art from a local museum and a merchandise boutique.
A few years ago, a pop-up store would have been unthinkable for a luxury titan such as BMW. But BMW is facing new competition, including Tesla stores sprouting in numerous malls. And it wants to lure customers back to stores and away from online shopping sites.
Pop-ups are part of a year-old global BMW initiative called Future Retail that emphasizes digital tools and clean, cool environments like those of Apple stores. BMW wants all of its 339 U.S. dealers on the program by 2019. This year, Ludwig Willisch, CEO of BMW of North America, said the program will cost dealers about $500 million total.
The Costa Mesa pop-up offered a peek into how it all could work. Car sales weren't permitted, but visitors could register with one of five participating local dealerships for a test drive.
On its peak day, 2,400 people went through the store, said Peter Miles, vice president of sales channel development and customer relations. In total, more than 100,000 people visited the pop-up store.