The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 21, 2013

Car dealerships renovating as economy grows warmer

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Enid auto dealers appear to be doing well after some tough times.

Most of the major dealers are performing or have completed renovation projects on their buildings. Some of the renovations were requested by their corporate partners, who want to increase customer appeal and brand awareness.

Jerry Janzen, of Janzen GMC, said his remodeling is almost finished due to some delays in receiving materials.

“We’re waiting on flooring. As soon as we get the floor, we will be 98 percent done,” he said. “The new sign is up, and it will be lit up.”

Janzen’s name and the GMC logo also will be on the front panel of the building.

Janzen said the remodel includes a new design and new furniture, and the project’s cost tops $800,000. GM officials had a plan they preferred, and told Janzen what he had to do to comply with the GMC image for a franchise. The work included repainting all walls and adding a new ceiling, lighting and electrical wiring in the showroom.

“We did quite a little work on it,” he said. “A lot of the furniture is in. We had to replace anything the customers see or touch. We bought some of things from GM, and some we bought locally.”

Janzen said he is ready to have the job finished, but it will look good when the project is done.

“We knew it would help business,” Janzen said. “This is the image [GM wants]. It’s part of the franchise agreement. We’ve been here 42 years and changed things three times prior. One thing that’s constant in this business is change.”

He said there will be an open house after the project is completed in February.

At Northcutt Chevrolet Buick Toyota, Leonard Northcutt said his remodeling project essentially is complete.

“We finished remodeling in July,” Northcutt said. “We still have some items to come in, but we were 90 percent done by the end of July.”

Northcutt said all Chevrolet dealers were encouraged to make the changes. GM uses a national architecture firm, and sends a representative to the local dealership.

The bid was let the last week of December 2011, and the project was finished in July. Northcutt said it was the first project done since the building was built in 1966.

The showroom floor was replaced, although Northcutt said he had a nice tile floor. He tried to get a waiver from GM, but the company would not accept it; After completing the project, Northcutt said the floor does look nice.

All of the furniture was replaced in the sales and sales management offices to follow the color design designated by GM. Northcutt did some projects on his own, such as tripling the size of the customer lounge.

The last time he renovated the fascia was between nine and 10 years ago.

“That’s not bad,” Northcutt said. “They do want all the stores to look the same, like McDonald’s with the golden arches. It’s not a mandatory thing; Some dealers rejected it.”

Northcutt was completing a renovation of his Toyota dealership when the GM project began. Toyota was a little different than GM, but both projects were the same in some areas, he said. The Toyota building was new, so the project was less expensive than the nearly $1 million renovation for GM.

In the Toyota dealership, Northcutt had to put a portal on the front. That project was required, but did not have to replace flooring in the showroom. Toyota did require some changes in the customer lounge and other areas.

Northcutt said GM has not always placed those requirements on its franchisees.

“A project of this magnitude, I don’t look for another again for 20 years,” he said. “This is major — it’s less than $1 million, but not far from it.”

Randy Floyd, general manager of Stevens Ford Lincoln, said the dealership is completing a major renovation of its service area. The change was not required by Ford, he said, but because the service area was busy, and there was a need to service larger vehicles.

Floyd said Stevens built a new service department that will accommodate large trucks, like the Ford F-600. The project will be completed by the end of January.

“There is such a demand in our service business,” he said. “It’s gone up 35 percent in the last two years. This is our second addition in three years. The service business has gone through the roof.”

The service department addition took about six months to complete.

“We had a lot of things like that to factor in,” Floyd said. “It cost less than $1 million. We didn’t have to put in tile in the showroom.”

Bruce Jackson, owner of Jacksons of Enid, which sells Chrysler vehicles, said the last remodeling project he did was in 2007, required by Chrysler.

“We did the arch, the signature of Chrysler dealers,” Jackson said. “We finished in 2008, and the recession hit. We were faced with all the construction bills.”

The dealer finished the majority of the showroom and the exterior of the building and met Chrysler requirements. The next expansion will be the service department; Jacksons temporarily is using a building downtown.

Jackson said the volume of oil-field work has kept them busy.

“They are swarming us ... we don’t always sell them, but we don’t care,” he said. “We’re glad to have the business.”

Jackson said he followed the basic requirement of the arch, but is the only dealer in the nation to build it strong enough to put cars on it. Jackson liked the marketing value of the car on top of the building.

Randy Hamm, owner of Stuart Nissan, is putting a roof on the entire dealership and will install a new floor. But, he said, it’s minor compared to what Northcutt did and Janzen is doing.

Nissan has recommendations for building a new store or remodeling a store, with guidelines to follow. Nissan would like Hamm to build a new dealership, but Hamm said he wants it to make more economic sense before he does.

Kevin Curttright, of Curttright Honda, remodeled his service department in 2010 when the auto business began to crumble. He added a new 15,000-square-foot service department and included a waiting room. The only area the dealership has not  remodeled is the new facade and showroom area.

“It’s just a matter of time when we want to start it, but I’m waiting to see if the government gets its act together,” Curttright said.

He said when he is certain the economy looks good, he will begin the remainder of the remodeling.

The dealership will get a facelift, and the showroom will be expanded.

Curttright estimates the showroom and front facade changes will cost about $1 million. The service area expansion cost $1.1 million.

“We need to do a remodel,” he said. “This building hasn’t been remodeled since 1974.”