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Tesla vice president George Blankenship

Former Apple retail executive George Blankenship used to be a self-described “Porsche guy.” Then, a couple years ago, Tesla founder Elon Musk put him behind the wheel of a Roadster.

“I was in the car 45 seconds, and I knew I had to be with this company,” recalled Blankenship, who now serves as vice president of sales and ownership at the maker of electric vehicles.

Blankenship was in Seattle Tuesday night, speaking at a function hosted by wealth management firm McAdams Wright Ragen. Blankenship was full of energy, describing the inner workings of the auto maker, chit-chatting with Tesla owners and answering my question about legislation in North Carolina that could prevent Tesla from selling cars direct to consumers in the state.

But the thing that struck me the most about Blankenship’s remarks were the direct comparisons between Apple and Tesla. In some ways, Blankenship is making the exact same moves out of Apple’s very successful retail playbook, a retail strategy that the executive helped craft.

Here are Blankenship’s extended remarks on that topic, which offers some fascinating color about Apple and where Tesla is going:

“Everything we do is difficult. And why is it so difficult? It’s because everything we do is impossible to everybody else. When you think about what Tesla does, and you go back four or five years ago and you say: ‘I am going to do an electric car that is going to go over 200 miles, goes zero to 60 in under 4 seconds and it is going to look great.’ And what is everyone going to say? It’s impossible.

tesla-redAnd as soon as we do that, what do we say? ‘Now we are going to build a 4-door sedan that seats seven people and goes 300 miles and goes zero to 60 in under 4.5 seconds. Impossible for everybody else on the planet except for Tesla.

And then you say: ‘Now, how are we going to talk to customers about this and how are we going to do this?’ So, ‘why don’t we go open up stores in the mall and have people wander in, and we will tell them about electric vehicles, and we will try really hard not to sell them anything? Why don’t we do that? Really?’

And that’s what we do every day.

I worked at Apple for six years, and here’s what you have to think about at Apple. Many of you may not remember back to the year 2000. But that is when I joined Apple. I was employee number six in Apple retail. And when I joined Apple, here’s what most people knew about an Apple computer, they knew one thing: I DON’T WANT ONE…. It is for those crazy people. It is for those creative types. I don’t want one. And that was the position we were coming from.

So, how did we make a difference?

Apple's U Village store in Seattle
Apple’s U Village store in Seattle

You get in front of them on a day-to-day basis, every single day. Every time they are at the mall and they walk past you all of the time, and they see you. And one day, they need a speaker or to check an email, and they come in. And, at that point, you get a chance to tell them who you are and what you do…. Over time, what ended up happening is that we embraced people and we talked to them, on their time, when they weren’t thinking about buying a computer. It was great. And then one day, they needed a computer. And what happened? ‘I know Nathan down there, so I will stop in (to Apple) and get a computer’ because they knew us already.

Then what happened? Out came the iPod. And what was it? It was this little white box, and it cost $600 for a music player. Every other music player on the market was $149. But what was the difference? A thousand songs in your pocket. Everybody else was 12. Everybody wanted one, but almost nobody could afford one…. People bought them. They got rave reviews….

Then, what happened? $249. iPod mini. Six different colors. And all of those people who wanted the $600 version, can now buy one for $249.

Then what happened? iPhone, 2007. Six years after the first store opens, and what happened? People were waiting in line around the corner … down the block waiting for a product that they had never seen, or touched. They were waiting in line to get it.

The difference between 2000 and 2007 — is we embraced them. We welcomed them when they weren’t thinking about buying anything from us. We made them feel comfortable.

That is what we are doing at Tesla. That’s exactly what we are doing. We are locating in places where people can drop in and say hello, when they are not thinking about buying a car. Make them feel comfortable. Tell them about the car…. If you took a test drive today, you probably felt something today that you’ve never felt before in a car. It is an awesome car. What we are doing is fundamentally different than the way every other auto dealership runs.

When you go to an auto dealership, their number one job today is to sell you a car. Ours is to sell you one in the next ten years. Not to force you to buy, but because you want it. That’s what we do…. As a company, we are doing everything differently. Everything we do is impossible.”

Previously on GeekWireTesla exec on potential North Carolina sales ban: ‘It’s an inconvenience’

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