Online research, the rise of electric vehicles and innovations in other retail sectors are altering how dealerships will be designed, with showrooms shrinking, service areas growing and customers’ first points of contact changing, say experts in the field.
“Everybody wants what Apple has — that call to action, that enthusiasm for the brand — OEMs especially,” said Silvia Carfora, president of the Weis Group, a Toronto-based retail consultancy specializing in dealership planning.
More dealerships are adopting some of Apple’s approach, such as greeting customers and being able to work with them anywhere on the sales floor, Carfora said.
“If you’re walking around a showroom, you’ll see fewer closed offices,” but those remain for exchanging the private information needed to arrange financing, for example.
“Customers are now walking around a vehicle, staff are more frequently there with iPads. ...we’re looking at the product in a different way,” she said.
That change is evident at Go Auto, a Western Canada group based in Edmonton with 59 dealerships.
“When we look at design trends, we’re streamlining the guest experience, removing any barriers to business,” said Jared Biggs, Go Auto’s senior vice-president. That includes moving the receptionist to the rear of the showroom, placing sales representatives’ desks in open areas throughout and making sure customers are first greeted by a staff member who can help immediately.
“The olden days of staff begging over who is going to talk to the customer first has gone by the wayside,” Biggs said. “The internal politics of a showroom shouldn’t be a customer’s burden.”
Customers now arrive at dealerships well-informed about the car they want and often with financing arranged, Carfora said. A test drive to confirm their purchase decisions, followed by a quick and painless transaction, should be the priority, she said.
Showrooms are shrinking and service areas are growing as dealerships place more emphasis on fixed operations and as online tire-kicking reduces the need for showroom space, Biggs said.
“The need for these massive showrooms isn’t quite as relevant as it once was. We want a more intimate space in the showroom, as opposed to a large museum.”
KIA: CLEAN AND CASUAL
The new image program for Kia dealerships, called Signature, adopts some of the trends cited by Carfora and Biggs, said Robert Marner, director of customer experience at Kia Canada.
The first to adopt Signature was Straightline Kia, a newly built, 14,400-square-foot (1,300-square-metre) dealership in Medicine Hat, Alta. It features sharp corners and a clean, metallic look in the front of the showroom, giving way to a more casual area in the back with desks and chairs in open spaces.
Customers feel more relaxed about sitting down to discuss their purchases without feeling trapped in an office, Marner said,particularlythosewhohave done their research online and want a quick transaction.
“What our design is intended to do is accommodate both the traditional offline customer and the online customer that’s here today and will be more so in the future,” he said.
The rising popularity of EVs means dealers also should provide space to educate buyers on charging and EV use, Carfora said.
As well, she said, devoting more space to displaying options, colour samples, fabric swatches and accessories is gaining added significance as reduced inventory means dealers have fewer vehicles to showcase those features.
DESIGN FOR THE FUTURE
A function of dealership design that’s becoming increasingly important is future-proofing against technological changes, said Alex Tedesco, an architect with WeisLGA, which collaborates with the Weis Group.
Also important, Tedesco said, is planning for net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by using efficient LED lighting and incorporating infrastructure and building design to allow for future installation of solar panels.
“We try to design so in the future, if solar becomes a viable option, it’s plug-and-play, no major electrical work is needed,” he said.
At Kia Canada, such planning takes into account future needs for charging stations, which involve installing empty electrical conduits to ease installation later and offering extra space and EV-specific vehicle hoists in the service area, Marner said.
“The [Kia] EV6, for instance, has a battery that’s 1,100 to 1,200 pounds [500 to 550 kilograms], just for the battery,” he said. “You need the right hoists to life that, plus you need the right tables. If you lower that battery, you need a movable table able to hold 1,200 pounds.”
As for the service waiting areas, Carfora said that depends on the dealership. Those in urban settings might know their customers don’t have time to wait, while rural dealerships might decide their customers are arriving from farther away and would rather wait.
“The dealer knows best,” she said.