I was recently in St. Louis for business. Living in Kansas City, I was excited to be in a city with a Tesla store I could visit. I called ahead to verify their hours and location the day before. The representative I talked to wanted to schedule a test drive, but they close at 6pm, I couldn't be there before 4:30pm, and they already had something scheduled for 5pm. I said I could try to make it sooner, but couldn't guarantee being there before 4:30pm and that I would be happy just to look around at what they have without a test drive if I couldn't make it there sooner.
The next day when I visited the Tesla store, I suddenly understood why they were trying to schedule a test drive. I understood why they were negative towards walk ins. Simply put, it's not a store. They may call them stores. They may have pictures online of places that look like stores. But what it really is, at least in St. Louis -- it's a service center with an extra Model S they can use for test drives. The experience was highly underwhelming. There was no store entrance, only a service entrance. Inside was a small room with a wooden desk. Behind that room was the service area. That's it. Oh, and they had some calendars.
The main sales person was already busy with some other guest. They briefly let me and my business associate look at the outside of someone's car that was in for service. After that, the only thing left to do was take a calendar and leave.
Walking out, I had to wonder: is this the way all Tesla stores are? It certainly didn't feel like a store. It felt more like a wooden desk in a small room. Did the sales associates know when they hired on that they would have no show room, no gear, no flash, and just a single Model S that sits back in the service area for scheduled test drives? As a customer, I certainly didn't. The cars were beautiful, but it definitely felt like a shoestring operation. And maybe it is. Tesla is not as big a company as it sometimes feels with all the press it gets. What they have is fine, but why call it a store? Why didn't the representative explain it to me when I called? It seems misleading and sets one up for disappointment. A store is something you can visit, look around, see stuff, and maybe buy stuff. All I got was a look at a wooden desk, a calendar, and a distant look at someone else's car. I could have done that without visiting a Tesla store.
In the end, I don't see anything wrong with what they are actually doing. It's the expectation that's the problem. People need to know what if you want to visit Tesla St. Louis -- and this might apply to all Tesla stores -- you absolutely need to have a scheduled test drive. Otherwise, you might just be making a special out of the way long distance trip for the sake of a complimentary calendar.
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