To explore ways to achieve this, the business unit has established a “lab store” concept, where new ways of customer interaction and auto service processes are being trialed, evaluated and benchmarked.
Bridgestone Retail has set up seven lab stores throughout the country — in St. Charles and Woodfield, Ill.; Alpharetta and Suwanee, Ga.; Eden Prairie and Maplewood, Minn.; and Antioch, Tenn. — where it is test-marketing a variety of approaches to customer relations, service bay procedures, etc.
Some of the concepts being trialed include:
- concierge service — designated concierges greet customers before they enter the store with the intent of ascertaining their reasons for visiting and thus speeding up the process. Concierges eventually will initiate this conversation using hand-held tablets;
- store within store — Bridgestone Retail partners, such as Interstate Batteries, Pennzoil/Shell lubricants, etc., set up branded areas within the retail store to help educate consumers on car repair and promote their brands;
- stand-alone transaction pods that provide more transparency for the customer in completing his or her business;
- Shield Shops — a wall or corner of the customer area where Bridgestone can display and sell Firestone-branded apparel or merchandise, Bridgestone golf balls and gear and/or impulse-buy items from Bridgestone Retail partners (such as Interstate Batteries, Rain-X wipers, QMI automotive lubricants, etc.);
- Circular customer waiting areas in the middle of the store, putting the “boss” where he should be — in the center.
In the service area, Bridgestone Retail is attempting to apply the principles behind lean manufacturing to the auto service experience, according to George Kingman, Lab Stores area manager for the greater Chicago area, during a tour of the St. Charles store.