LAS VEGAS – Ford’s Lincoln brand wants its big-town dealers to think small; as in how small-town car retailers connect with their customers.

The auto maker says the smaller dealers can teach their metro counterparts a thing or two about customized service and knowing customers on a personal level.

“We want the large dealers to step up and do what the small guys do,” says Jim Farley, Ford’s group vice president-global marketing, sales and service. “It’s a reversal of sorts, because auto makers typically urge small-town dealers to emulate some of the things metro dealers do.

“It’s usually portrayed as the opposite,” Farley says after a closed-door meeting with Lincoln dealers at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention here.

“But the small, scrappy dealers, guys like Terry Kidd, can really deliver the personalized customer experience,” he says, referring to the owner of Kidd Ford Lincoln in Morrison, TN, southeast of Nashville.

“With a luxury brand, whether in a small or big town, the customer expectations are the same,” Kidd says. “You have to step up and meet those expectations. We do that every day. We want the customer to come back.”

Lincoln is attempting to reinvent itself as it seeks to regain ground lost in recent years. The premium brand sold 71,700 units in 2011, compared with 231,660 in its peak year of 1990. The comeback plan is to offer exciting new vehicles and pampering service at points of sale.

“Our strategy is to conquest customers and give them a dealership experience they want, not like one in a big-box store where you sit down and wait your turn,” Farley says.

Several dealers attending the convention’s franchise meeting appear to be onboard. “It’s good stuff; good product and a good focus on facilities,” says Vince Trasatti, a Lincoln dealer in Carrollton, MD. “I feel great.”

Steve Brown, a Lincoln dealer in a small northwest Michigan city, credits Ford and Lincoln executives for their communication skills.

“They are very good at listening to dealers,” says the dealer principal of Brown Motors in Petoskey. “There is a confidence with Ford that they know what they are doing.”

Ford has said the sleek Lincoln MKZ concept car, revealed at the Detroit auto show in January, offers a taste of the brand’s design future.

“I am excited about the new Lincoln DNA, both from a product and customer-experience standpoint,” says Glenn Gardner, general manager of Margate Lincoln in Margate, FL.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com