At least four General Motors dealerships in Trumbull County this year are investing more than $3 million into upgrading their businesses, all part of GM's plans for more consistency nationwide among new car sales locations.
New floors, ceilings, customer service waiting areas, exterior design and showrooms are are coming to Cortland's Wollam Chevrolet, RD Banks Chevrolet in Champion and Sims Buick GMC in Warren. Cole-Valley Chevrolet in Newton Falls is taking its renovation even a bit further by constructing a brand new showroom across Canal Street adjacent to the existing service area, the dealer's general manager said last week.
None of the Trumbull County dealers described GM's push for upgraded facilities as coercive but rather called it "strongly encouraged."
Tribune Chronicle / Brenda J. Linert
Third-generation dealership owner Russell D. Banks stands in front of his R.D. Banks Chevrolet that is undergoing renovations under the direction of General Motors.
"Mandatory? No," said Wollam Chevrolet sales manager Tom Fye. "You had the option to do it. We needed to do it."
He said there have been few upgrades since the Wollam dealership opened in 1965.
"I like to say we invested in our future," Fye said. "We intend to be here another 50 years."
Afaf Farah, spokeswoman for Chevrolet in Detroit, said GM did set specific requirements for major aspects of the renovation and provided guidelines, but each dealer was able to decide the level of participation. That ranged from full rebuild, like the new showroom construction in Newton Falls, to more minor upgrades.
"It is important for Chevrolet to present a consistent image to consumers, and the only way we can do that is if we maintain the design and quality of our products, and in turn, we need our dealers, our partners in this business, to also be coordinated and presenting that same image," Farah said.
Russell D. Banks, third-generation owner of Champion's RD Banks Chevrolet, and Wollam's Fye both referred to GM's plans to give customers a familiar feel no matter what Chevy dealership they enter nationwide.
"They want people to feel as though all the stores are very similar so if they are traveling out of town, they feel at home," Fye said. "Not only does it make our customers more comfortable, it also makes employees feel good about the job they do."
Banks agreed, saying he and his employees are pleased with the end result. Still he noted some portions of GM's designs that he disagreed with and, in the end, altered to fit his dealership's needs.
An example included high-end, leather waiting room furniture that Banks said was impractical, and GM's demand that the visibility to the service area be blocked with a solid garage door. Banks instead installed a door with a row of glass panels, insisting that his service area is something he is proud of and is not afraid to show off to his customers.
Work at RD Banks Chevrolet began in March and will be wrapping up soon. It has affected nearly every aspect of the business.
"It was inconvenient for us and our customers, but we had a contractor who was very sensitive to our needs," Banks said. And in the end, the inconvenience didn't hurt business much.
"We sold eight new vehicles to the contractors during the months," Banks said with a grin.
In Newton Falls, Cole Valley Chevrolet general manager Chuck Paden described the Chevrolet branding as "great."
The dealership is in the process of building a new showroom across the street from the existing showroom, along with other upgrades to the service and customer service areas. Paden admits the dealership may lose some square footage with construction of the new showroom but said it was more important to provide better customer service.
This is the first major renovation the dealership has undergone since its origin more than 70 years ago, Paden said.
While the recent nationwide push for consistency came about after GM emerged from its 2009 Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the Chevrolet "blue arch" appearance is not new. Diane Sauer Chevrolet, for instance, implemented the design when she moved in 2004 to her new dealership on South Street in Warren.
And the GM dealership upgrades don't apply only to Chevrolet.
Sims Buick GMC on Elm Road in Warren also recently completed a full upgrade that left little untouched. Owner Bill Sims said the dealership's showroom was gutted and workers redid the sales offices, waiting and administration areas, service and parts departments, and exterior facade.
Sims said all the new furniture is made in America. He said the showroom now has a new acoustic tile, and the front windows are energy efficient.
Sims said about 85 percent of the large investment was according to GM's recommendations.
"The comments I am receiving by the customers, they can't believe how beautiful the building looks," Sims said.
And the renovation must be good for business. Sims said since the renovation he also added about a half-dozen employees in sales and service operations.