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Architecture + Branding: Customization and personalization, MINI brand hallmarks, evident across their dealership portfolio

1-Hello! Again.

When MINI burst back onto the scene in 2001, it was an automotive revolution. A spiritual successor to Alec Issigonis’s iconic 1960’s era Morris Mini-Minor/Austin Mini models, the new MINI Cooper combined British cult car nostalgia with modern German engineering and manufacturing. Small, quirky, funky, the new MINI combined unique style with tossable go-kart like handling.

Initially proposing one model, in two variants, a hardtop and convertible, MINI made many American consumers question their long-held view that small cars had to be cheap and frumpy. Elevating its interpretation on small car into a premium space, along with premium pricing, MINI managed to be frugal, fun, aspirational, and yet remain largely attainable.

20151009_102941 MINI- MINI Cooper and MINI Countryman models

Photo: MINI Cooper and MINI Countryman models

However, unlike other single model car brands, such as SATURN (SC), or smart (ForTwo), MINI benefited from BMW engineering and BMW-sized profit margins to help bankroll the endeavour in the early years. Furthermore, featuring an exhaustive list of customizing, performance, and personalization options, MINI vehicles were routinely driven off dealer lots at transaction prices that exceeded those of BMW’s own 3-series.

2-Joined at hip

In order to maintain the prestige, and premium pricing, attached to the MINI brand, many of the initial dealerships were attached to existing BMW dealerships. Along with reducing the initial capital outlay for dealers, the strategy also served to reinforce the BMW Group ownership lineage.

MINI-BMW_MINI 8240 Main Street Williamsville NY 3 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: BMW/MINI dealership, front 3/4 view, 8240 Main Street, Williamsville, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Often carving out a space from an existing showroom, MINI vehicles stood within several feet of BMW models. Intimately tied to the parent brand throughout the retail sales channel, MINI was nonetheless assigned its own floor space, showroom, and sales area. Often featuring a dedicated entrance, MINI was afforded several opportunities to develop as a brand apart from the beginning.

DSC12417 MINI-BMW_MINI 1040 Ogilvie Road Ottawa On

Photo: BMW/MINI dealership, right side view, 1040 Ogilvie Road, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Benefiting from the expertise, reputation, and goodwill gained by the makers of the Ultimate Driving Machine, MINI afforded BMW an opportunity to develop and market a FWD platform, along with a lower entrance price point, all without diluting BMW’s brand image or prestige.

DSC12414 MINI-BMW_MINI 1040 Ogilvie Road Ottawa On

Photo: BMW/MINI dealership, front view, 1040 Ogilvie Road, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Although true brand expansion and growth would be years away, the foundation was laid early on for a promising future.

3-Colour and shape

Extroverted, modern, fun, MINI stood in contrast to its luxury marque parent. More accessible, expressive, vibrant and youthful, MINI would serve as an entry point into the BMW Group family of brands.

MNII-MINI 2998 Cherry Ave Ste A Signal Hill CA 3 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, side view, 2998 Cherry Ave, Ste A, Signal Hill,l California (source: maps.google.com)

As the brand grew over time, MINI dealerships would gain a more defined, and refined, exterior treatment. Distancing themselves visually and texturally from the BMW palette by embracing a very linear, rigid, boxy, cubist design approach, the MINI portion seemed increasingly to be grafted onto the original building as an afterthought.

MINI-BMW_MINI 2491 Aurora Avenue Naperville IL 6 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: BMW/MINI dealership, side 3/4 view, 2491 Aurora Avenue, Naperville, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Often gaining its own distinct entrance, and partial façade, the MINI dealership design tended towards minimalism, favouring simplicity over adornment. Unique brand touchpoints reinforced the brand ideals.

20151009_113043 MINI-BMW_MINI 4133 Jean-Talon Ouest Montreal Qc

Photo: BMW/MINI, partial front 3/4 view, 4133 Jean-Talon Ouest, Montréal, Québec, Canada

Additionally, bold colours would come to characterize much of the brand’s visual communication, appearing as part of its interior and exterior design and decor package. Bright neon hues in red, yellow, green, bold graphics and signage were diametrically opposed to BMW’s more reserved and subdued approach.

20151009_113202MINI-BMW_MINI 4133 Jean-Talon Ouest Montreal Qc

Photo: BMW/MINI, partial front view, 4133 Jean-Talon Ouest, Montréal, Québec, Canada

Furthermore, the colour black grew in prominence, being applied on interior and exterior surfaces, and developing into a brand signature.

MINI-BMW_MINI 55 Auto Park Circle Vaughan ON 1 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: BMW/MINI dealership, front view, 55 Auto Park Circle, Vaughan, Ontario, Canada (source: maps.google.com)

Even though many locations remained physically tied to BMW dealerships, sharing many back-of-the-house functions such as service, parts, and other support spaces, the MINI dealerships were progressively stepping out of BMW’s shadow, and revealing their unique brand elements, including dedicated entrance, floor space, and modern vibe.

4-Lines and boxes

The sales momentum, and model growth, that the brand experienced, propelled many existing locations to expand their MINI dedicated space. In many cases, the strong and steady demand provided the impetus for new, larger, brand-specific stand-alone MINI stores, completely removed from their BMW parent.

MINI-MINI 311 E. Daily Drive Camarillo CA 2 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, side 3/4 view, 311 E. Daily Drive, Camarillo, California (source: maps.google.com)

These MINI specific locations would continue to build upon, and broaden, the brand’s modern-influenced design approach.

MINI-MINI 24400 Calabasas Rd Calabasas CA 9 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, front view, 24400 Calabasas Rd, Calabasas, California (source: maps.google.com)

Refuting a regimented prototype design, each MINI dealership is as unique as their cars. In fact, with “between 300 interior options and 370 exterior options” available to customize and personalize, the often heard claim that no two MINIs are alike could very well be true (source: The new strategic brand management: Advanced insights and strategic thinking).

MINI-MINI 350 S Lake Destiny Rd Orlando FL 4 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, front 3/4 view, 350 S Lake Destiny Rd, Orlando, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Nonetheless, most MINI dealerships adhere to much the same tenets as other automotive retail brands, namely occupying large exurb/suburban lots with abundant space for inventory and browsing, having the building set back deep from a main thoroughfare or intersection, and providing front-of-house parking for customers.

MINI-MINI 11550 Lake City Way NE Seattle WA 1 Aerial https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, aerial view, 11550 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA (source: maps.google.com)

MINI-MINI 11550 Lake City Way NE Seattle WA 3 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, left side 3/4 view, 11550 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA (source: maps.google.com)

MINI-MINI 11550 Lake City Way NE Seattle WA 9 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, front 3/4 view, 11550 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA (source: maps.google.com)

Situational, and site specific, MINI dealerships lack a defined shape. Compact, or sprawling out into various directions, seemingly adding spaces like building blocks stacked and staggered one against another, MINI dealerships come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

MINI-MINI 209 S River Rd Bedford NH 1 Aerial https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, aerial view, 209 S River Rd, Bedford, New Hampshire (source: maps.google.com)

MINI-MINI 209 S River Rd Bedford NH 5 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, front view, 209 S River Rd, Bedford, New Hampshire (source: maps.google.com)

The building shape is very geometric and boxy. Intensely linear, few curves or radii punctuate the general design. Narrow and long, wide and shallow, MINI’s quasi-organic design allows for a maximum of configurations to better fit with site limitations, as much as workflow within the building.

MINI-MINI 5750 W Sahara Las Vegas NV 1 Aerial https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, aerial view, 5750 W Sahara, Las Vegas, Nevada (source: maps.google.com)

MINI-MINI 5750 W Sahara Las Vegas NV 9 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, front view, 5750 W Sahara, Las Vegas, Nevada (source: maps.google.com)

MINI-MINI 5750 W Sahara Las Vegas NV 6 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, side view, 5750 W Sahara, Las Vegas, Nevada (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, the jumbled boxes approach creates multiple opportunities for articulation within all the façades.

20151011_173357MINI-MINI 1501 Carling Avenue Ottawa On

Photo: MINI dealership, front view, 1501 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

20151011_173526 MINI-MINI 1501 Carling Avenue Ottawa On

Photo: MINI dealership, right side 3/4 view, 1501 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

20151011_174244 MINI-MINI 1501 Carling Avenue Ottawa On

Photo: MINI dealership, left side 3/4 view, 1501 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Leaning heavily towards a few materials, namely black anodized aluminium, metal cladding and glass, MINI dealerships still feature textural and material variety from one elevation to another, adding drama and delight, and relieving the potential monotony of multiple similar façades.

MINI-MINI 705 Louisiana Ave S Golden Valley MN 6 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, front 3/4 view, 705 Louisiana Ave S, Golden Valley, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)

MINI-MINI 705 Louisiana Ave S Golden Valley MN 2 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, rear 3/4 view, 705 Louisiana Ave S, Golden Valley, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)

Nonetheless, the front façade typically receives the most attention. A sea of glazing, including expansive windows combined with aluminium and glass doors, framed vertically and horizontally by narrow bands of metal cladding, clearly concealing/masking the structural frame beyond, tends to define the front.

MINI-MINI 209 Andover St Peabody MA 7 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, front 3/4 view, 209 Andover St, Peabody, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Entrance vestibules that jut out of the main building plane, second storey cantilevered glass boxes, and/or entrance towers, add further dimensions to the often flat front façade.

MINI-MINI 925 NJ-17 Ramsey NJ 3 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, front 3/4 view, 925 NJ-17, Ramsey, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

MINI-MINI 5880 Paradise Drive Corte Madera CA 2 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, front 3/4 view,  5880 Paradise Drive, Corte Madera, California (source: maps.google.com)

The flat roof is concealed by the alternating height of the roof parapet, that tracks and mimics the floor plan articulation, thus sharply reinforcing every change of plane.

MINI-MINI 4170 Shelbyville Rd Louisville KY 5 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, front 3/4 view,  4170 Shelbyville Rd, Louisville, Kentucky (source: maps.google.com)

MINI-MINI 1645 Dallas Pkwy Plano TX 2 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, front 3/4 view, 1645 Dallas Pkwy, Plano, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

The black cladding, punctuated by several injections of bold coloured surrounds and trim pieces, that have come to define much of the MINI brand’s corporate communications, from advertising campaigns to built environment design, is ever-present.

MINI-MINI 18900 Hawthorne Boulevard Torrance CA 4 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, front 3/4 view,  18900 Hawthorne Boulevard, Torrance, California (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, capitalizing on opportunities in the wake of The Great Recession of 2008-2009, MINI moved into stores shuttered by other brands, converting and transforming them, to varying extents, into MINI branded stores.

MINI-MINI FORMER Saturn 4340 Rosewood Dr Pleasanton CA 4 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, (FORMER SATURN), front 3/4 view, 4340 Rosewood Dr, Pleasanton, California (source: maps.google.com)

MINI-BMW_MINI FORMER Mazda 6318 Montana Ave El Paso TX 4 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: BMW/MINI dealership (FORMER Mazda), front view, 6318 Montana Ave, El Paso, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

MINI-MINI FORMER LR-Jaguar 1455 Auto Mall Drive Santa Ana CA 2 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership (FORMER Land Rover/Jaguar), front view, 1455 Auto Mall Drive, Santa Ana, California (source: maps.google.com)

MINI-MINI FORMER SAAB 1111 W Diversey Parkway Chicago IL 2 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership (FORMER SAAB), front 3/4 view, 1111 W Diversey Parkway, Chicago, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Fresh, youthful, and vibrant, the move to stand alone dealerships has meant a bigger, bolder, and more dynamic MINI experience for scores of brand loyalists and fans.

5-Urban attitude

As much as the rectilinear glass box might sell in the suburbs, dense city centers require a different approach. Already finding wide support in urban centers, where the MINI models’ diminutive size are more conducive to dense urban living, MINI has been apt to adapt its black-and-glass approach to cohabit happily with many urban neighbours.

MINI-MINI FORMER Body shop 799 Van Ness Avenue San Francisco CA 2 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership (FORMER Body shop), front view, 799 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, California (source: maps.google.com)

MINI-MINI FORMER Body shop 799 Van Ness Avenue San Francisco CA 5 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership (FORMER Body shop), front 3/4 view, 799 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, California (source: maps.google.com)

Turning down most of the loud colours and graphics, MINI has even ventured into quirky and improbable retail locations.

MINI-MINI 1039 Hamilton Street Vancouver BC 2 https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, front view, 1039 Hamilton Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (source: maps.google.com)

MINI-MINI 1039 Hamilton Street Vancouver BC 4 Nelson Street https___maps.google (2)

Photo: MINI dealership, rear view (Nelson Street entrance), 1039 Hamilton Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (source: maps.google.com)

Willing to experiment and go out on a limb, MINI’s daring approach is counter-current to actually reinforcing a consistent and cohesive architectural identity and design directive.

However, after several years of growth, the MINI brand is at an inflection point. The brand announced in 2015 that it would be scaling back its product portfolio, which had grown to 7 models over time, to focus on 3 core product lines, the Cooper, Clubman, and Countryman. Additionally, the BMW 1- and 2-series, Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA, are now all reaching down into first-time buyer territory, competing with MINI in the small premium space that it helped to cultivate.

20150830_131944 MINI-MINI 793 11th Avenue NYC NY

Photo: MINI dealership, side 3/4 view, 793 11th Avenue, New York City, New York

Built on offering a unique automotive perspective, MINI has captured a large mind share of the small but fun segment by delivering on its promise in an unexpected, cheeky and yet consistent manner to delight the brand faithfuls, and beyond. Further reinforcing its mantra through its built environment, yet modifying the norm to venture into geographic locales that other manufacturers wouldn’t dare, should help keep MINI fresh, and relevant, while cementing its quirky, unconventional, and spunky status.

 

Disclaimer: All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

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About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.

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