SHANGHAI — Imagine an Apple Store with a coffee shop open only for people who own an iPhone. Behind that, there's a day care center you can rent for children's birthday parties and a small stage for performances. And, of course, there are the company's products on display.
This is how Chinese electric vehicle startup Nio hopes to engage with its customers, through carefully designed areas in branded stores. It's all part of an ambitious plan by founder William Li to reshape what it means to be a lifestyle brand.
Under the slogan "A space for Nio's users and friends. A joyful lifestyle beyond the car," Nio has opened 13 such houses throughout China, with more planned this year. When Nio entered the automotive business, it tried to answer a question other automakers may take for granted, said Steven Zhao, Nio's vice president of User Centers.
"Nio is a new player in the vehicle industry, and the first question we have to answer is, 'Why do people really need a car?' " said Zhao. "This is a foundational question. If we cannot give the right answer, we don't have any opportunity to become a huge player in this industry."
The Nio Houses are part of the company's answer.
"We do believe users are not only buying a car for the product and technology. A new design, new technology and [being] faster are not enough. In this new era, we believe, users just want a joyful lifestyle," he said.
Nio may be onto something. Mark Colosimo, global director of data and analytics at Urban Science, said some dealerships in the U.S. that have added coffee shops or cafes are finding they've earned some quirky, loyal customers.
One dealer Urban Science works with has a woman who comes in regularly for coffee or doughnuts. "He loved her because she would talk up the dealership, saying how great the salespeople are," Colosimo said. But cafes are not a guarantee for success, he said, given most people don't want to go to a dealership to hang out.
But Nio thinks it will build a deeper relationship with its customers. Nio's advertising shows potential Nio House users taking to the space to form bands, hold a fashion show and make movies, among other things. The ad emphasizes the sheer size of the Nio Houses. The Beijing one is over 32,000 square feet across two floors, for example. The interior of the Shenzhen Nio House was designed by the architectural firm Chapman Taylor and is over 22,500 square feet.