No one sat idle at Buick's Discovery Tour in Southern California this week. More than 1,200 select customers accepted invitations from General Motors corporate headquarters in Detroit to test-drive vehicles, enticed by gourmet food, Spanish wine and celebrity chefs from Chicago, New York City and Santa Monica, Calif.
Dozens of new cars and sport utility vehicles were valet-parked alongside the Four Seasons Westlake off Via Colinas. They glistened in the sun on a signature cloudless Pacific Coast day. The 2013 Buick Verano, LaCrosse and Regal sedans mixed with the popular Encore and Enclave crossover SUVs in brilliant metallic-tint colors that ranged from Crystal Red, Mocha Bronze and Atlantis Blue to Carbon Black, Summit White and Quicksilver.
Craig Bierley, GMs director of Advertising and Promotions for Buick and GM brands, reports that the Discovery Tour is in its third year. In addition to the Los Angeles area, this years event will be held in San Diego, Phoenix, Houston, Denver, Tampa, Atlanta, Boston and New York.
Doing events like this, Mr. Bierley said, you notice we're focused heavily on markets with high Hispanic demographics.
Mr. Bierley and his colleague, Chris Ayotte, define high as upper income — professional and well-educated.
We're really going after the Hispanic luxury consumer, said Mr. Ayotte, Buicks national promotions manager.
Mr. Ayotte introduced the 2013 Buick vehicle lineup during the test-drive portion of the event. He also introduced wine connoisseur Michael Green and executive chef Michael Psilakis one of three culinary professionals recruited by Buick to give demonstrations and accentuate the connection between gourmet dining and affordable-luxury automobiles.
People who make unassuming choices are conscious of their role in the community, Mr. Ayotte explained, noting that U.S. Hispanic professionals, who traditionally are community conscious, fit the Buick mold.
These are people who make an understatement about the car they drive, said Mr. Ayotte. "These are people who value success."
Our focus is on how we grow conquest business, said Mr. Bierley, noting that the average age of Buicks customers has dropped 10 years. The GM executive emphasized that half of the brand's clients today are buying Buicks for the first time.
Its an impressive statistic from a division whose parent corporation eliminated sibling brands Pontiac and Oldsmobile from the family lineup. To state that the 2013 Buicks particularly the Verano and crossover SUVs are not your father's cars has become cliché.
Judging from the guests at the Four Seasons Westlake, Buick is becoming an attractive diversity brand. A variety of people of various ages attended the first session. At least half of the guests were women, and age is a relative concept for products that cost approximately $23,000-$53,000.
SoCal Equal Opportunities
Buick doesn't invite just anybody to these test-driving tours. Both Mr. Bierley and Mr. Ayotte emphasized that professional Hispanics are a key demographic for Buick, especially given the tour's regional focus on Florida, Texas, Colorado, Arizona and California.
These events tend to attract Hispanic consumers, said Mr. Bierley, noting that the culinary experience of the executive-chef demonstrations are a perfect, if well-scripted, complement for Buick owners, who skew toward active lifestyles and discerning tastes.
Culinary food tends to bring people together, Mr. Bierley said, adding that the Hispanic market is a terrific opportunity for attracting new customers to the Buick brand.
First, and foremost, he said, we need to show people a good time.
For the 2013 tour, Buick accomplished that goal with chef Psilakis, a dynamic crowd favorite who specializes in Greek-American fare; Mr. Green, a whip-smart wine expert and syndicated columnist; Raphael Lunetta, a rising-star celebrity chef and Santa Monica native who told guests he concocts culinary ideas while he's surfing and fishing in the Pacific; and Ben Roche, an eclectic pastry chef from the Windy City with a flair for chemistry and a penchant for juxtaposing unusual sweet and savory flavors in desserts.
Still Your Doctors Buick
Its not too difficult to decipher how Buick emerged from the no-go lost decade to earn a reputation as a comeback brand that is perfecting high-tech details and adding high performance to its glistening vehicle lineup.
The brands heritage, said Mr. Bierley, dates to the days when doctors still made house calls. Patients preferred doctors who drove Buicks, said the executive from Detroit. If a physician showed up in a Ford, Mr. Bierley told HispanicBusiness (with typical Motor City bravado), it meant he wasn't the best doctor on the road. If he drove a Cadillac, it meant he was charging too much.
Judging from the West Coast edition of the Discovery Tour, Californians seem to be taking another look at the iconic American brand.
As for U.S. Hispanic consumers in the market to step up from best-selling brands like Chevrolet, Nissan and Ford, diversity is not only getting invited to the showroom today, it's buying into the upscale theme.
Reinvesting in Food and Wine
The executives from GM pointed out the average income for the Buick Discovery Tour attendee is over $100,000. The average age is 46, and half the guests are women.
The culinary demonstrations and delicious food, Mr. Ayotte said, are scripted and well-coordinated to reduce pressure on guests when they test-drive cars and SUVs.
Measuring return on investment is a critical next step for Buick. Mr. Ayotte reports the results of the Discovery Tour have been favorable, with GM's follow-up research showing the events represent ROI time well-spent.
We find that our buy rates are exceptional for follow-up six months after these events, Mr. Ayotte said. Were just amazed how many people will give us three hours of their time. We call it surprise and delight.
Of the estimated 1,200 people who attended Buicks most recent culinary demonstrations, many participated in the test-driving opportunities.
Upon arrival, each guest spent about 10 minutes registering on a touchscreen computer inputting personal data, showing their driver's licenses to an assistant and signing a waiver that put them behind the wheel of one or two 2013 models.
Mr. Bierley described the 2013 Buick lineup as a redefined product portfolio.
"Buick made a conscious decision," he continued, to change the DNA for our product.
The change, for Buick, looks good.