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A TRIAL pop-up in a busy Melbourne shopping centre last Christmas paid off for one Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) dealer to the point where he is now midway through a longer-term lease of a larger showroom in busy Melbourne Central.

City Chrysler Jeep, part of the Hopper Motor Group, conducted a five-day trial between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The Hopper Motor Group has previous experience in small-scale activities including Werribee Plaza and Victoria Gardens through casual mall leasing.

City Jeep, Parramatta

The trial showcased the value of taking cars to shoppers so well that City Chrysler Jeep general manager James Sounas moved to a larger store in February and became the first dealership to take up lodgings in Melbourne Central on a lease running until July.

Mr Sounas told GoAutoNews Premium that the centre’s high foot traffic and different shopping atmosphere has resulted in a casual and relaxed customer experience for car buyers.

“It definitely breaks down the apprehension that prospective buyers might feel walking in to a traditional dealership,” he said.

City Chrysler Jeep employs between two and three people at one time from 10am Monday to Sunday. It closes at 7pm, except for a 9pm close on Thursdays and Fridays.

City Jeep, Parramatta

“We run dedicated training programs with casual employees so they’re equipped to demonstrate vehicle features, provide product information and take customer contact information in a more relaxed environment than a traditional dealership,” he said.

The training program is devised by one of Hopper Motor Group’s directors, Jo Hopper.

“Traffic count varies depending on the day, however, is typically highest over the weekend with Saturdays being the busiest. I see a steady increase as the store gains momentum,” Mr Sounas said.

Mr Sounas said information from prospective buyers is passed on to the dealership for sales staff to follow up and organise a test drive. The same process applies to queries about trade-in vehicles.

City Jeep, Parramatta

Melbourne Central is in the Melbourne CBD. It has more than 300 retailers over five levels. The attraction is its customer base from tourists to CBD workers, inner-city residents and students.

The centre, which is part of the overall CBD shopping precinct of 1000 stores, has 51 million shoppers each year. It has direct access to the city loop train station and has significant through traffic in addition to shoppers.

Mr Sounas said that the most popular vehicle looked at by shoppers is the Jeep Wrangler “simply because it’s such an iconic model in the line-up”.

“However, given the popularity of the compact- SUV segment, we’re seeing an increasing number of shoppers look at the new Jeep Compass.”

The location in Melbourne’s CBD has also picked up international customers in the store to buy branded merchandise.

City Jeep, Parramatta

“City CJD has engaged a number of local Australian manufacturers to produce branded merchandise and have partnered with artist Jasper Knight* to incorporate his work on the apparel,” Mr Sounas said.

*Jasper Knight is an Australian artist and finalist in the 2005, 2006, 2011 and 2012 Wynne Prize for landscape painting, and the 2013 and 2015 Sir John Sulman Prize. He won the Mosman Art Prize in 2008. City CJD has a painting of the Jeep Wrangler on display in the store and will shortly be incorporating his artwork on their apparel, including limited-edition tee-shirts.

By Neil Dowling

City Jeep, Parramatta