Coffee - the smell that sells

All vehicle sales staff know about the JD Power car ratings that are based on owners’ feedback, but few know the biggest complaint car owners have with their cars is the smell.

KZN s9 Andile Gcabashe

J.D. Power Senior Director Brent Gruber said in a 2018 report that “unpleasant interior smells remain the top industry problem in the automotive market”, adding JD Power surveys recorded almost double the number of complaints for bad smells compared to the next biggest complaint, excessive fuel consumption.

This is not news to car sellers, who have developed many ways to mask the smells of new rubber and petrol in a dealership, from employing engineers to heat up all the glues and materials used in a vehicle’s assembly and then change anything that give off a stink; to dangling a scent-drenched plastic tree from the rear-view mirror. Those engineers literally sniff steering wheels and door handles and they have different criteria for each country. For as Ford and VW have learned, smells are culturally based and what smells nice in Germany may be nauseating in China.

Watch Audi's engineers test different smells in their lab:

Several studies have shown that nice smells lead to friendly clients and improved sales, which is why there is now an entire industry designing ambient scents for businesses. And as it turns out, dealers have long been using the most cost-effective chemical in the scent marketers’ arsenal, often without knowing it. Chemists call this chemical 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine. The rest of us know it as caffeine.

Most dealerships visited by Dealerfloor have at least an instant coffee maker on standby, but the new benchmark is to have a barista on site, as does Volvo Hillcrest in KwaZulu-Natal. There, barista Andile Gcabashe says she loves the way her corner makes the whole dealership smell nice.

At the busy La Dolcé Voita Caffé at SMG Motorrad Umhlanga, barista Hope Nkosi serves her customers in any of four languages, dispensing smoothies, breakfasts, cakes and the all-important coffees. Travis Harvey, Financial Manager at SMG, says the coffee bar runs as an independent cost centre that adds a quality of life experience to visits at BMW’s flagship dealer on the KZN coast.

Move to the dark side

While all dealerships have coffee makers, not all dealerships leverage the aroma of coffee as well as they could.

Andile Gcabashe
Andile Gcabashe loves the way her coffee brings a smile to customers' faces.

Deon Erwee, master roaster at the Coffee Merchant in Durban north explains not all coffee are created for the same purpose and it all comes down to the colour of the roast.

There are four basic roasts, light, medium, medium-dark and dark. While this sounds simple enough, the chemical processes catalysed by heat quickly make big differences in a roast’s taste and smell. “The difference between perfectly roasted coffee beans and a ruined batch can be a matter of seconds,” said Erwee.

He advises that dealerships brew dark roasts to get that freshly roasted coffee smell throughout the dealership, and for that first caffeine jolt in the morning, a light roast, which contains a little bit more caffeine than dark roasts.

“There is a world of difference between roasts. It’s a good idea to ask or taste before you buy,” said Erwee, adding the Coffee Merchant is always willing to guide users in choosing a roast and even coffee machine at their roastery and showroom.

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