A young person wearing clothes three sizes to big and body-piercing jewelry that wouldn't clear an airport metal detector saunters into your dealership.
What do you say?
"Someone call the cops!"
"Does that nose ring hurt?"
"Let me show you around?"
The answer is "C," says Julie Roehm.
She's young and hip. She also has an M.B.A from the University of Chicago and is the brand manager forMotor Co.'s new Ford Focus, a compact that is aimed at the younger set.
"The Focus will be used to makedealers a place to shop for 'cool' cars," says analyst Lincoln Merrihew of Standard & Poor's DRI Global Automotive Group.
Half the sales training for the new car consists of preparing dealership personnel for this new group of "savvy, informed young buyers" who also might look a bit on the wild side, says Ms. Roehm.
She adds, "Our message to dealers is, 'They may look funny to you with piercings and whatnot, but don't treat them differently.'
"We played videos for dealers showing this group saying, 'We want to be treated the same as others.' The idea is to prepare dealers for who these young people are and where they are coming from."
They are the "Echo Boomers," a marketing name given to the new wave of consumers who are at an age and a level of affluence where they're in the new-car market for the first time. There's about 80 million of them in the U.S.
Naturally, not all of them fit the punker or young gothic image, but Ms. Roehm's message to dealers is to expect the unexpected.
"We're trying to convince dealers that young people are a special audience," she says. "Dealers won't necessarily make a lot of money off them, but it can be a profit center."
Moreover, using the Focus to attract young customers to the Ford brand can start a long-term customer relationship.
"Many of them will ultimately be in an SUV or a high-end car, so the idea is to get them now with the Focus," says Ms. Roehm.
She hastens to add that Ford expects a broad base of customers, not just young people, to buy the Focus.
Upcoming advertising will appeal to the young set but in fact it's intended for one and all.
After all, says Ms. Roehm, Nike shoe ads target 15-year-olds, but people of all ages buy them.
Production of Ford's existing compact car, the Escort, will continue at least for two model years, says Ford Division President James O'Connor.
That reinforces Ford's message that the Focus is not an Escort replacement "and should be considered something different," says Mr. Merrihew.
But Mr. O'Connor says Ford will not advertise the Escort, and "we're not going to recommend that local dealer associations advertise the Escort."
Meanwhile, Ford Credit, in an attempt to attract those youthful buyers to the Focus, will offer 9.9% financing to young people who meet certain criteria but who've yet to establish a credit record. That rate is limited to the Focus. It's more than the prime rate, but less than what such customers would expect otherwise.
Ford also is looking into offering bonus lease miles to young Focus lessees who make their payments on time.