Americans know AAA. It’s a card in their wallet, a phone number they call for emergency road service in the middle of the night, a set of roadmaps for their next vacation.
But too many car owners don’t think of AAA as a place. Or for its wide range of travel services and discounts. Or as a source of merchandise – books, travel equipment, luggage, money belts, passport covers and the like.
The Ohio Auto Club, a chapter of the Automobile Association of America, is seeking to change that – to develop a retail experience that would activate the AAA brand in a service environment. It wanted its new “Explore Store,” at the Bethel Road Crown Plaza in northwest Columbus, Ohio, to provide customers with an overview of all the services, products and benefits of AAA membership – benefits a focus group said it wasn’t aware of.
“Many people told us they didn’t feel like members anymore,” says Diane Perduk Rambo, senior vp of Columbus-based brand consultancy Big Red Rooster. “They use MapQuest for directions, Expedia for reservations, OnStar for road services. But there are so many other benefits, such as significant member discounts at retailers like LensCrafters and Sherwin-Williams. And there’s all that travel-related merchandise, and travel services beyond just car trips.”
There was also nothing welcoming about the offices, generally in low-rent strip centers that today’s shoppers visit infrequently. The theme of this store – which sits in its more-upscale roadside location alongside a new Kroger – is “Exploration.”
“The previous AAA selling space was set up like a tax office rather than a store, and the consumer’s expectation was about as pleasant,” says Big Red Rooster president Aaron Spiess. “There was no sense of discovery and exploration that happens in a dynamic retail environment. We wanted to make this store inviting, an invitation to browse merchandise, to check travel opportunities, to shop.”
This store shouts “interactivity.” There isn’t a clunky desk at the front to halt entrants, but rather a service post and a number of available pod stations that invite discovery – racks, shelves, chairs for reading books and maps and Internet stations for deeper research. “We took the reps’ desks away,” says Perduk Rambo, “and put them out there where the customer is.”
Bright colors, large lifestyle graphics and warm finishes were used to make the environment inviting and fun. Information about vacation-planning is clearly displayed and well-merchandised.
“AAA has great market penetration,” says Perduk Rambo. “Many people get membership from their parents along with their first car. But these days, there’s much more leasing of cars, which may include roadside assistance, and many people assume they won’t keep their cars past 60,000 miles. It was important that in the store, AAA would be able to readily communicate that there are so many benefits of membership in addition to getting a flat tire replaced.”
Client: AAA Ohio Auto Club store, Columbus, Ohio - Kent Rambo, vp, marketing
Design: Big Red Rooster, Columbus, Ohio - Diane Perduk Rambo, senior vp; Marcie Merriman, vp; Dana Fleming, vp; Marie Haines, director; Jenine Monks, designer
Architect: Gieseke Rosenthal Architecture + Design LLC, Columbus, Ohio
General Contractor: Lincoln Construction, Columbus, Ohio
Fixtures: Creative Cabinets, Lancaster, Ohio
Lozier, Omaha, Neb.
Flooring: Bentley Prince Street Inc., City of Industry, Calif.
Armstrong Flooring, Lancaster, Pa.
Furniture: Continental Office Furniture, Columbus, Ohio
Lighting: Prizm Lighting, Dublin, Ohio
Signage/Graphics: Digico Imaging, Columbus, Ohio
Photography: Mark Steele Photography, Columbus, Ohio