As new and used light-vehicle sales continue to improve, several car dealerships in the Akron area are in the midst of renovations and expansions or have recently completed construction projects.
Van Devere Buick and Dave Towell Cadillac, close to each other on West Market Street in Akron, are remodeling showrooms and service areas. Some closed dealership buildings have reopened under new ownership and a new business model. Dealers locally as well as nationally are increasingly in a hiring mode, too.
Van Devere is spending upward of $600,000 to upgrade its Buick showroom at the family-owned complex. The business recently finished an approximately $1 million renovation at its Chevrolet dealership on Vernon Odom Boulevard in Akron, said Jerry VanDevere, vice president. The Buick project originally was slated to be finished at the end of June, but the dealership now expects work to be done by late August.
“We were at a time, we had to invest money in [the Buick showroom],” VanDevere said.
While Buick sales are not high volume, they are continuing to grow, he said.
General Motors is helping dealerships such as his with financing the projects through money attached to each vehicle sale over the next four years, VanDevere said.
“The opportunity to earn back the bulk of the money we spend is really there,” he said.
General Motors wants each Buick showroom to have a similar look and feel to help with brand recognition, VanDevere said. “It’s the ‘image’ look,” he said. That image includes what he calls an “eyebrow” main arch at the showroom entrance.
“I think they are trying to raise the bar,” VanDevere said.
VanDevere said his business isn’t finished with remodeling once the Buick project is completed.
“Kia is next,” he said. Ground will break in about three months for that project, which will include expanding the franchise service bays in addition to adding to the showroom. The work will take six to nine months to complete, he said.
“We are going to keep growing,” VanDevere said.
Other dealers in the area that recently finished remodeling projects include Toth Buick GMC, Laria Chevrolet and Doug Chevrolet, said Terry Metcalf, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Auto Dealers Association.
“Things are picking up. Sales are up. The projections are up,” Metcalf said.
Tom Towell, president of Dave Towell Cadillac, said his dealership is in the midst of its first major remodeling in about 15 years.
“It is an extensive remodel,” Towell said. “It was time.”
He declined to put a price tag on the changes. He said General Motors is providing some help but is not paying for the project. Work is expected to be complete in October, he said.
The project work flow is intended to minimize or eliminate any inconveniences to the dealership’s luxury-car customers, Towell said.
The building will get a new exterior limestone look, he said, and the interior has been redesigned. The dealership’s former Saab showroom space will become a new customer lounge as well as a vehicle display area.
The existing Cadillac side is getting “a total redo from floor to ceiling,” Towell said. The changes, which he called a “repurposing,” will result in more usable space as well as a nicer look, he said.
The service department is also being renovated and upgraded, he said, and when finished will look like a showroom.
The changes are needed to meet customer expectations and to keep pace with competitors that include Dave Walter BMW, Ganley Mercedes and other Cadillac dealerships in Northeast Ohio, Towell said.
Dealership job openings have been increasing along with new and used vehicle sales, reports the National Automobile Dealers Association.
Nationally, total dealership employment hit 963,400 in 2012 from 933,500 in 2011, NADA recently reported. Dealership employment peaked at about 1.1 million prior to the start of the Great Recession, according to NADA figures.
New vehicle dealers in Ohio in 2012 employed 36,040 people, or an average of 48 per dealership, with an average payroll of nearly $2.3 million, according to the NADA. The U.S. average last year was 55 people employed per new car dealership with an average payroll of $2.9 million.
In Northeast Ohio, dealerships increasingly are looking to hire, with openings in sales as well as for skilled technicians, said Louis Vitantonio, president of the Greater Cleveland Automobile Dealers’ Association.
Used vehicle sales are also doing well in the region.
RightWay Automotive Credit, which specializes in selling used vehicles to people with poor credit, just opened in the former TriCity Nissan building off West Avenue in Tallmadge. This is RightWay’s second Ohio store after opening in Toledo.
RightWay’s 22 other locations are in Michigan and Illinois. Its corporate parent is Garber Management Group of Saginaw, Mich.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com.