Local GM dealerships say store upgrades are worth it

9/18/2012
BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Dave White Chevrolet was one of the first Chevy dealerships in the country to renovate their store.
Dave White Chevrolet was one of the first Chevy dealerships in the country to renovate their store.

A push by General Motors Co. to make its dealerships more familiar and customer-friendly has led to significant investments for several area dealers at their lots.

GM’s detail-oriented store design is the most visible part of a larger branding effort to standardize the way its franchises both look and operate. To get that, GM lays out everything from the distinctive blue square archway to the color of the showroom floor tile.

“They pretty much dictate every fixture, every finish, tile, style, colors, ceiling, and color scheme,” said Doug Kearns, general manager at Yark Automotive Group.

Construction at Yark’s Chevrolet dealership in Whitehouse started this spring and is expected to be finished by the end of October. The special orange paint is already on the back walls, and workers recently laid the signature tile.

Dave White Chevrolet in Sylvania was one of the first Chevy dealerships in the country to complete the renovation. Despite some early misgivings, general manager Joe Mehling is pleased with the dealership’s new look.

“It’s made huge difference in the minds of our consumers,” he said. “It’s absolutely been a difference maker.”

The dealership's exterior look differs a bit from most other Chevy stores, as GM granted it an exception based on Sylvania's zoning rules. The inside is to the same specifications, including its up upgraded customer lounge that includes a children’s play area with an Xbox 360, free wireless Internet access, and multiple flat screen televisions.

“The whole experience has changed drastically,” Mr. Mehling said. “[Customers] are much more conformable in here.”

So much so, Mr. Mehling said, that one Volt driver often drops in to grab a cup of coffee and a donut while he charges his car at their charging station.

GM does not require its dealers to make the upgrades, though it does encourage them by offering quarterly payments to those that make the changes. The automaker says about 3,400 of its 4,400 U.S. dealerships have signed on.

Still, some smaller dealers have expressed concern at the cost of the renovations, which can be substantial. The National Automobile Dealers Association, in a study that looked at all factory-mandated dealership remodeling programs, found many dealers — both small and large — were concerned about the return on investment.

Dealers also said there have been some delays for some items that are only available from one or two vendors.

Signs, for example, have been particularly slow to arrive. Though Dave White Chevrolet’s renovations were finished in February, the dealership didn’t receive back-ordered signs until early this month.

John Yark, owner of Yark Automotive Group, said the business is spending approximately $1 million to remodel its Chevy dealership. Mr. Yark said part of the reason he was able to justify the investment was the opening of the new U.S. 24 and the way he sees suburban Toledo’s future development heading.

“Based on the way the city appears to be growing, this is where you want to be,” he said. “We have great expectations for this store, and we really feel to be competitive with the rest of the competition in town -- and hopefully be better than they are -- we needed to make the investment. We think it’ll work out fine for us.”

The dealership has a temporary sales office set up on the lot and remains open while construction continues.

Ballas Buick GMC owner Marianne Ballas said her dealership spent about $1.5 million to upgrade its store on Central Avenue strip. The renovation took about a year, and was recently completed.

She views the investment, which she said went above what GM required, as a vote of confidence in the dealership.

“You don’t put this kind of money in a store if you don’t feel like it’s got a substantial future,” she said.

Though each dealership has to front the money for the renovations, Mrs. Ballas believes the expenditures will be eventually be recovered through GM’s payments.

“We’re happy,” she said of the renovations. “We think it’s beautiful. Everything a customer sees and touches has been improved.”

Changes of note there include a new indoor delivery area for new cars and an enclosed, climate-controlled area for customers to drop off cars for service. The dealership also added a new waiting area that includes TVs, a children’s area, and wireless Internet.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: 

tlinkhorn@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.