Cadillac has a cool new spot in Soho.
Cadillac House, which sits at ground level below the company’s headquarters in the New York City neighborhood, is marked by big garage doors that open at the corner of Hudson and Charlton Streets, inviting passersby to peek inside. Four Cadillac models, both vintage and current, will sit on the veranda and on a runway display, which is flanked by a row of columns outfitted with digital screens that play branded video content.
Visitors will be surrounded by the Cadillac name, but you can’t buy anything at Cadillac House. Instead, you can buy a latte, host a meeting, do work on your laptop, buy clothing from a fashion designer’s pop-up space, or walk through an art gallery.
Cadillac is looking to change its common perception from a classic brand swamped in nostalgia to a forward-facing American luxury brand, so it built a space where it can forge a connection with new consumers without a pushy car salesman looming nearby, eager to “push metal” and willing to throw in some mud flaps.
“People have a very nostalgic memory of Cadillac, but they may not be familiar with our new product or our plans from the future perspective,” said Eneuri Acosta, Cadillac’s marketing communications manager. “We’re coming for a new consumer who will realize they have more in common with Cadillac than they thought.”
Cadillac worked with design firm Gensler to develop the space, which took about a year and a half. John Bricker, partner and creative director at Gensler, said that the challenge was designing a layout that both pulled in Cadillac’s heritage while inviting in a modern element, and also making it feel like a community space.
“The brand’s rebirth is in New York, and it’s reaching out to a new customer through a cultural connection,” said Bricker. “We wanted it to be relevant today while still fitting the level of what luxury should be when you’re buying a luxury automobile.”
Cadillac sought out a few partners to lay down its take on both luxury and culture at Cadillac House. It worked with the CFDA for its Retail Lab, a pop-up store and incubator that will host different young designers’ work while providing them with mentorship; first up is designer Timo Weiland. Visionaire will select artists that will display in the gallery space, and Joe’s Coffee will serve visitors. Event partnerships will bring in fashion shows and parties to the space as well.
“There’s something for everyone, so we can engage with consumers on their own terms,” said Acosta. “Imminent transactions aren’t part of it, but product will always be present and top of mind. The goal is to not just change the brand perception but also sell cars, but less in an atmosphere that’s the typical experience.”
If customers are interested in buying a Cadillac, brand “ambassadors” (the term salesman has been banned) are ready with full product information, options and dealership recommendations. Down the line, Cadillac’s goal is to revamp their dealerships to mimic elements from the Cadillac House to make them feel more premium.
Investing in a 12,000 sq. ft. “experience center” that’s loaded up with more culture than cars and doesn’t sell a single model might seem like a distraction from the brand’s core focus. But parent company General Motors announced in its annual report that it’s focusing efforts on growing Cadillac in the U.S. and China, where a second Cadillac House is being built. Its strategy is to start with a stronger brand identity.
“Rather than losing focus, this is an opportunity to tap into its consumers,” said Erich Joachimsthaler, CEO and founder of Vivaldi Partners Group. “This brand is huge, and it just needs to cough out a point of view and its position in culture and say, ‘this is how we consider luxury.’ Car companies don’t have the same customers anymore.”
Images via Gensler.