In its clubby pop-up boutique in Porto Cervo, Rolls-Royce endears itself to ‘time-poor’ rich with breezy test drives, spoonfuls of caviar and an open bar.
You can’t expect a captain of industry to walk into your frontage-road auto dealership, even if you are Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. Instead, you’ve got to find your customer where they are. And in the summertime, and if you happen to be Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, that’s Porto Cervo.
Porto Cervo is the most expensive city in Europe by some measurements; rather definitively so if that measurement is total board-feet of luxury watercraft. The port town is on the Italian island of Sardinia, in the very Medi of the Mediterranean, and the megayachts fill the harbor there every summer as if it were the breeding grounds for fiberglass cetaceans.
“This is a rarified niche,” says Rolls-Royce’s James Warren, of the potential market for the roughly 4,000 bespoke automobiles that the company produces annually. “These people are incredibly wealthy and incredibly discerning, but,” he sighs, “These are time-poor people.”
Too time-poor to shop, perhaps, but they are not too time-poor to relax, so Rolls-Royce has created a spot for them to chill. Company representatives spent a summer scoping out the scene in Porto Cervo (after considering the west coast of the US and Monaco, among other places), and located a sizeable art studio along the Promenade du Port. Then, they created the Summer Studio — a space in which not to sell Rolls-Royces.
“You’re not buying the car, you’re buying the lifestyle” says Gerry Spahn, spokesman for the Rolls-Royce in the Americas. “If you own a Rolls, you are part of the family, so we have to show you what being part of that family is like.”
“The Summer Studio is like your favourite bar right off the marina,” says Warren. “Not ‘one drink and you have to go,’ no sales people hovering over them. This is more about them coming to RR when they are ready.”
To get them ready, there are spoonsful of caviar and sparkling wine (often Nyetimber, an English vintage raised very near RR’s headquarters in Goodwood), as well as specialty drinks named after the marque’s famous models. (“I have tried them all,” says Warren, “in the interest of quality control.”) The furniture is by Fendi Casa, with pillows made of RR Phantom leather, and wood accents from the same craftsmen that might customize a Ghost’s dashboard. Artists and jewellers often display their work, as has on at least one occasion one of the world’s foremost tattoo artists. Brand videos play as discreetly as they may on large flatscreen televisions, and a DJ spins tunes as they seem appropriate to the crowd and hour — pumping them all through the sound system of a Wraith parked in the center of the room, its doors rakishly ajar. “It’s a Rolls-Royce embassy,” says Warren.
There’s never a bill presented, and no one shooing you out the door. It’s become an exercise in conviviality, with shorts and deck shoes welcome, a go-to meeting place for a certain set. “Some have just docked their yachts and are looking for an afternoon cocktail, and others have just landed in their jets and are waiting for their yachts to moor,” says Warren. “This has become a very popular place to just hang out.”
Though the crowd is all plutocrat, it is polyglot. “There is a lot of American being spoken,” says Warren, “But people come from all over Europe, particularly Italians and Brits, with some from Eastern Europe and plenty from the Middle East in August. The come from farther away, especially China, as the superyacht world begins to attract attention there. It’s a real melting pot.”
Cars are available to drive, but this being Rolls-Royce, a test drive doesn’t always mean stepping behind the wheel. Guests may request a chauffeured ride to a vineyard or to dinner or to a club, and enjoy the back seats the brand is famous for. After a few rides, many begin a conversation that may last months, deciding which of their homes is most in need of a Rolls, and what color would best suit the lifestyle there. “Of course,” notes Warren, “there is someone to take care of them should they wish to commission a car on the spot.”
This is not the only automobile pop-up store in a luxury locale; Bugatti has one just down the street at Harrods Prestige Village in Porto Cervo (though it seems to focus on selling branded apparel rather than Chirons), and Tesla is opening dealerships in the Hamptons and Cape Cod in a quaintly American way. Aston Martin is taking pre-production models of its DB11 to the country clubs and parking lots of those who have pre-ordered their own models. Indeed, it may not long be the only seasonal store for Rolls-Royce; the company is casting its eyes toward the China market, very likely near where very large ships dock…