The changing face of dealerships

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DEALERSHIP FACILITIES HAVE EVOLVED OVER THE PAST DECADE. WE LOOK AT WHAT’S CHANGED — AND WHAT’S TO COME.

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It’s fitting that on the 10th anniversary of Canadian auto dealer, we take a look back at the evolution of the retail facility in the past decade.

Since 2005, it’s fair to say that nearly every facility across the country has made some type of capital investment to modernize, grow capacity or meet an OEM image requirement.

In many cases, the new build or renovation was a positive development to better serve customers and employees, and to drive business ahead.

Although every project is different, there are many building features which have become commonplace in the past 10 years that were rarely seen beforehand.

Here are a few examples, along with some insights into what the next 10 years might bring:

Service Drive-In: Other than many domestic stores, the service drive-in has evolved greatly over the past decade. Not only in its presence, but also in evolving from a single door and drive aisle line to double and even triple aisles.  While ensuring a sheltered environment for customers, the drive-through also allows service advisors and jockeys to greet customers. It also gives them easy access to inspect vehicles. Looking ahead, we are already seeing barcodes and RFID chips on vehicles so advisors are aware of when customers are entering the site.

Although every project is different, there are many building features which have become commonplace in the past 10 years that were rarely seen beforehand.  

Customer Amenities: It’s hard to believe that WiFi was rarely offered at dealerships in 2005. Did you know Starbucks only started offering free WiFi in 2010?  Today, it’s commonplace for both staff and employees. It will also likely play a role in better understanding customer shopping patterns in the future via WiFi heat mapping.

Lighting: Technology has also had a significant impact on how dealers invest in their facilities. It used to be that metal halide “gym lights” would light both showrooms and service shops.  Today, between fluorescent and LED technology, the quality and efficiency of lighting has progressed exponentially.  We are at the point where significant lighting advances happen almost annually.

Power Outlets: Not only have customers and their devices necessitated more areas to plug in, but also so have vehicles. It’s common for vehicle batteries to drain within a day.  Virtually all new facilities we see have floor plugs to run electronics and dashboard computers.  The next decade will see an increase in importance as we see more plug in and vehicle systems become even more of a drain on battery life.

CPO Display: A decade ago there were only a few OEMs who were able to offer Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle programs.  Today, it’s more or less available across the board.  CPO vehicles sales are increasing every year and growing as a percentage of used car business. They are having an impact on how dealers and OEMs are organizing their lots and parking layouts.

Sales Offices: The last decade has shown many variations of sales offices.  Closed offices, open offices, bullpens and desks in the front windows. What is becoming clear is that technology will play a major role in how salespeople interact with customers.  There are studies and industry surveys that indicate customers are more comfortable negotiating a deal with a tablet than at a salesperson’s desk. The future of sales interaction spaces is perhaps a topic that will have the greatest impact on your operation in the years to come.

F&I Offices: The sales office discussion is a nice segue into the F&I office —or shall I say offices.  As new vehicle grosses drop, the F&I function is growing rapidly.  In some cases, dealers and OEMs are requesting three and even four F&I offices in high volume stores. The good news is that these offices are a great revenue driver and a necessity for offering customers financing and lease options. These offices are always closed, but are more flexible than sales offices. They are frequently located upstairs or even downstairs in some locations.

My last observation of the past decade is the rush and urgency in which dealers and OEMs push the building process.  It’s a virtual certainty that real estate and construction costs will continue to climb.

So when you are planning your project, take the time to think it through, do your best to be ahead of the curve, and build a building that will be agile to the ever changing conditions of the decade to come.

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Canadian auto dealer