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Land Rover dealer Larry Zinn builds loyalty with off-roading fun – Automotive News

by Nov 6, 2022Blog0 comments

Customers can drive their own car with an instructor or use one of the store’s demonstrator vehicles.
Most dealers keep their new, unsold luxury vehicles far away from mud pits, dirt roads, deep water, jagged rocks and other things that can potentially cause damage.
Larry Zinn is not most dealers.
Long before the market filled with upscale SUVs, Zinn’s Land Rover stores held yearly events that brought customers into the wilderness to drive Land Rovers and Range Rovers in rugged conditions.
Now that the segment that Land Rover helped create in the late 1940s with the original Series 1 and then 40 years later with the luxurious Range Rover is chock-full of competitors, the stores’ yearly off-road driving events have taken on far greater importance.
Each year, Miami Land Rover dealer Larry Zinn’s two stores hold an off-road driving event called Rover on the Rocks, where customers learn how to drive over rugged terrain.
“From a loyalty perspective it’s super important for us. It helps keep us connected with our customers, and we have a great time together,” said Zinn, 36, executive general manager of Miami-based Warren Henry Auto Group.
In early October, Zinn’s two Land Rover stores, Land Rover North Dade and Land Rover South Dade, staged the company’s annual Rover on the Rocks off-road driving event. The weekend program drew more than 400 customers and some potential buyers to a vacant lot at a mixed-use development called Sole Mia, where Zinn had an off-road course created to showcase the all-terrain capabilities of the vehicles his stores sell.
In the late 1980s, when Land Rover returned to North America with the Range Rover, dealers were required to demonstrate the vehicle’s off-road prowess, but even though Land Rover eventually dropped that requirement, Zinn, one of the brand’s original U.S. dealers, never did. And the event has been held each year since 1987.
From left, CEO Warren Zinn, Executive General Manager Larry Zinn and Retail Merchandise Manager Katy Zinn at the annual Rover on the Rocks off-roading event
Zinn won’t say how much the company spends to stage Rover on the Rocks, but it is no small affair. A company is hired to create a challenging but safe driving course festooned with obstacles Land Rovers are designed to tackle. That includes driving over logs and through streams and rock crawling. But participants aren’t completely roughing it: There is a giant on-site, air-conditioned hospitality tent as well as catered food and a DJ along with a display of vehicles and accessories.
Customers who bought or leased a Land Rover or a Range Rover, Zinn said, can either drive their own vehicles along with an instructor or use one of the store’s demonstrator vehicles.
“We try to build the course to show [how the vehicle performs] on inclines, declines, camber turns, articulation, water pits. We really try to get these vehicles through the paces. And not only to show what the vehicles are capable of, but to show the customers how much of that information is visible to them within the car with sensors, cameras and tracking devices that are built in and that most customers never use,” said Zinn.
The vast majority of rugged SUVs are used for on-road driving, and Land Rover’s all-terrain vehicles are no exception. Zinn says that virtually none of the potential buyers who visit his stores and test drive Land Rover Defenders, Range Rovers and other models ask to test them off road.
The latest Land Rover models have such features as four-wheel steering, off-road cruise control, hill descent control and cameras that provide a 360-degree view of the surroundings.
“I’d say the majority of our customers have no idea what the cars are capable of, and they really never use them for what their alternate purpose is,” Zinn said.
“Here in South Florida, where it is totally flat, they get no sense of off-roading at all. Aside from a good flood once in a while, you don’t get much experience [driving in strenuous conditions], he said. “It is an eye-opening experience for the customers,” Zinn said.
The company’s annual event drew more than 400 customers.
“One of our associates will get in the car with the client and drive it first to give them a lesson on how to make it through the course. The second time around, the client drives, either his own vehicle or one of ours, with our associate in the passenger seat,” said Zinn who took several rides with customers. He sat in the back seat and observed how customers were interacting with the Rover.
Zinn says there have been a few incidents over the years where vehicles were damaged. “Naturally, that’s going to happen when you are off-roading. We were fortunate this time around that the event was within a mile of our dealership. We bring the cars right over to the shop and get them repaired. It’s just part of doing the event.”
To help make the experience even more fun this year, store personnel outfitted the Rovers with GoPro cameras and made videos of the customers’ drives that were given to them after the event. And there were small electric Land Rover vehicles for kids to drive over their own miniature off-road courses.
Zinn says Rover on the Rocks obstacle course appeals equally to men and women drivers. Nearly half of the drivers this year were women, he said.
About 50 of Warren Henry’s Land Rover employees staff the event; the stores remain open with a smaller crew during the weekend.
Rover on the Rocks gives Warren Henry’s two Land Rover stores the opportunity to showcase the myriad accessories Land Rover has created for its vehicles.
Displays at the event help boost sales of such things as wheels, brush bars, tents and other off-road gear. Zinn said since many attendees bring their own vehicles, they use the opportunity to schedule service appointments.
The event also helps employees do their jobs better, said Zinn. “Everybody gets an opportunity to drive the course. Unless they are going on a training trip, they don’t get a chance to drive these vehicles off-road, so they get to learn a new skill, which they can use to help customers.”
Rover on the Rocks is more than a promotional event for Zinn. When his father, company CEO Warren Zinn, began them in the late ’80s, Zinn and his sister, Katy, the company’s retail merchandise manager, attended as children.
Zinn said he plans to continue Rover on the Rocks, holding it twice a year when possible.
“After every event is over, we regroup and put our learnings together of what we did that was great, what we could do better and any ideas going forward,” Zinn said.
For decades, Land Rover and Jeep dominated the market for go-anywhere, off-road vehicles, and the luxurious Range Rover had no real competition.
That, of course, has changed, and the Range Rover especially is seeing more and more competitors inch onto its turf, as other luxury brands such as Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, Maserati and Cadillac roll out six-figure SUVs.
Rover on the Rocks helps keep Zinn’s customers from drifting away.
“We have customers who drive a specific Land Rover, and they’ll see we have a different model,” Zinn said. “They get an opportunity to drive that car and take it off-roading. Many times, they’ll say: ‘This is what I am getting next.’ ”
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