Dealership Design and Construction, My Two Cents…

Five considerations when selecting a General Contractor for your dealership project.

Dealership demolition is about to start. Having the General Contractor involved in preconstruction will help things go smoothly.
Demolition day for Pinehurst Toyota’s old facility in Southern Pines, NC. Selecting the right General Contractor and bringing them in during preconstruction planning is critical.

Over the years we have overseen countless projects; new construction, renovations, service expansions, brand upgrades. Everything from showroom renovations under 5000 square feet to ground up 100,000 square foot plus dealership builds and everything in between.  One thing that consistently rings true, the right Contractor is essential. We often tell clients that selecting a General Contractor for your dealership project is like a short-term marriage. You are tied to the hip for the next 12 to 18 months, or longer if the project drags out.  Although there are several construction companies that specialize in automotive dealership projects, it doesn’t automatically mean they are the right choice.

Below are 5 things to consider when selecting a General Contractor for your dealership project:

1. The General Contractor’s Experience in the Automotive Industry

The right partner for the project and the client isn’t always apparent. As mentioned above, automotive experience doesn’t necessarily guarantee a smooth project or the right partner. Dealership projects are a mix of building types and uses. The Service Department is a complex coordination of equipment and utilities. There is a storage warehouse required for the Parts Department, and office space for Accounting and Management. The retail space is a whole separate environment. Beautifully finished showroom display space and offices. High end bathrooms and a Customer Lounge that should rival any upscale hotel lobby or airport club lounge.

Firms with experience in the industry understand all these use categories but not all are proficient in each category. We have seen some firms with automotive experience fall tragically short when it comes to Fit and Finish. The building goes up quickly but the punch list of unacceptable items is long and takes weeks or months to finish. There is a flip side. We have seen GC’s come into a project with no automotive experience. What they did have was a healthy balance of commercial and high-end residential experience. They absolutely “knocked it out of the park” when it came to schedule, budget, and quality.

Tearing down the old dealership. Selecting a good General Contractor will make sure all phases go smoothly
A General Contractor with Automotive experience is certainly beneficial, but they may not always be the right fit for your project.

2. Preconstruction Services

Before fully committing to selecting a General Contractor for your dealership project, executing a pre-construction agreement is a good first step. Most waive their costs for this service if they are awarded the job. There is a good amount of work in the beginning, coordinating details and offering constructability support to the design team. It always makes sense to engage the General Contractor early. Compensate them if the project gets put on hold or you decide not to proceed. Some of the better GC’s will push for this as they want to also ensure the project is a good fit for them.

Again, this is a year to year and half relationship. Getting to know each other before executing a multi-million-dollar contract is critical to the project’s success.  Selecting a General Contractor for your dealership project who jumps at the opportunity, or better, insists that they be engaged during the design process is always a good sign.

3. Transparency – Open Book Approach

Transparency might seem obvious, even a given requirement for the project. Sadly, in the construction industry, sometimes the process is anything but transparent. Too often subcontractor’s bid proposals are one page. They are short on details, and simply state the price is “per plans and specifications”. Then, when there is a question, or if an issue arises in the midst of the project, the subcontractor and general contractor will come back and state that it wasn’t clear on the drawings. That’s when the change orders start piling up. All because the quote states “per plans and specifications”.

Here is an example of where this can be an issue. There was a particular project where the architect didn’t specifically call out weatherstripping on the showroom car entry doors. It was a minor oversight. The Subcontractor said it wasn’t called out on the architect’s drawings, so they left it off their quote. The General Contractor had awarded the subcontract off a one-page proposal that stated “per plans and specifications”.  

When we identified the issue in the field, the Subcontractor’s change order was over five thousand dollars. We asked the Subcontractor if they had ever installed such a door without weatherstripping, the answer was a quick “no”. Regardless, they pointed to the “per plans and specs” one page proposal.  Since it wasn’t clearly spelled out, they felt they were entitled to their over inflated change order. Our most successful projects include detailed subcontractor bids which show unit pricing and labor breakdowns. The process is transparent, open, and having the GC onboard early in the preconstruction phase, ensures that things like the above aren’t missed.

4. Strong Subcontractor Relationships

When a General Contractor has strong subcontractor relationships, items like the example above don’t make it to ownership. They likely won’t even end up as a change order. Well established relationships result in Subcontractors who are more likely to be transparent, open, and get the job done within the timeframe and to the quoted price.   This also holds true at the end of the job when there is a deadline that needs to be met. We have seen GC’s ask their subcontractors to work extra hours or weekends at no additional expense to the owner, just to get the project done. Certainly, this is not the norm, but it does speak to the value of a strong established relationship and the value subcontractors place on it as well as the opportunity for future work with the GC.

5. Selecting the right Site Superintendent

Although this is number five on the list, it very well could be number one. Everyone on the project team plays an important role within their own area of expertise. The Site Superintendent can make or break a project. We have seen several well-established general contractors who specialize in automotive projects fall short due to daily onsite supervision.  In one case, we have had the same General Contractor working on two projects for a client. The only variable being the Site Superintendent.  The outcome was two completely different experiences, it was as if we hired two different companies.

The car dealership is under construction. A well selected General Contractor will have an excellent Site Supervisor
Coordinating all of the subcontractors on site every day is the responsibility of the Site Supervisor. They can literally make or break a project.

Site Superintendents need to manage the subcontractors and hold them accountable for scope and quality every day. If they don’t, the result is a long punch list at the end of the job. Unfortunately, and almost without exception, there is a fight with the Subcontractors to get things completed. Usually to a level where they should have been in the first place.

For ID Automotive, we now mandate the General Contractor include a bio and resume for the Site Superintendent they plan to assign to the project. We recently completed a job with an out-of-town contractor who had no automotive experience. The client was set on using the company due to a personal relationship. We pulled that company in early under a preconstruction agreement.  They worked closely with our architect to finalize permit and bid drawings. Before construction ever started, they hired a great Site Superintendent with an outstanding reputation and a solid list of established subcontractors. Even with no automotive experience, the project had very few change orders, was on time, and came in within budget. By our standards, this was one of the most successful recent projects.

The completed new car dealership. A smooth project because the right General Contractor was selected.
A major construction project can last 12-18 months. Selecting the right General Contractor for your dealership project will help it go smoothly and reduce the chance of change orders, delays, and budget overruns.

In closing, the items listed above are all part of our recipe for a successful project. True every build and every client is different, and there is no guaranteed formula.  Adhere to these 5 items when selecting a General Contractor for your dealership project. You will be setting yourself up for success.

Why bathrooms matter in your dealership

Modern beautiful bathroom at Pinehurst Toyota in Southern Pines North Carolina
This photo is from one of our most recent Toyota projects in Southern Pines North Carolina. A special thank you to the Pinehurst Toyota team, especially Ashley Holderfield who took the lead finalizing and selecting all the materials and finishes. Also to Toyota Motor Sales and Southeast Toyota who give dealers the latitude to make bathrooms their own. I know these are restrooms that Jim Moran would have been proud of.

Given the last year and half, and everything we’ve endured with the Covid pandemic, it goes without saying that clean bathrooms are important in any business, including your dealership. However, beyond clean and sanitized, there is well maintained and updated, and this is what I want to talk about today.

Over my 20+ years in this business I have walked into hundreds of dealerships and without fail, I head to the bathrooms first. This is the best way to get a good impression of how well the dealership is taken care of, and how much the ownership and staff pay attention to their facility surroundings. This approach isn’t exclusively my idea, I have heard many peers in the auto industry relay the same. In fact, it was something I learned from Jim Moran, the founder of Southeast Toyota. Mr. Moran always checked out the restrooms of every dealership he visited, he felt it was a good benchmark of how the dealership was doing.

If you’re still asking if bathrooms matter, take a moment to read this very interesting article how bathrooms affect the retail experience:   https://www.simplemarketingnow.com/blog/flooring-the-consumer/bid/137884/bathrooms-affect-retail-experience-say-studies

Perception is reality.

I have seen dealerships that are 10 to 15 years old with clean and presentable restrooms.  On the flip side, I have seen facilities which are less than a year old that looked like the bathrooms hadn’t been cleaned or maintained since they first moved in.

Right or wrong, perception becomes reality and customers relate the cleanliness and overall condition of your bathrooms to their entire experience at your dealership. Bathrooms are what customers see and you can’t sell a car to someone who has already made their mind up about your business based on their restroom visit.

Wallpaper peeling and hole around urinal plumbing in dealership bathroom
Peeling wallpaper and an open hole around the plumbing give the impression that there is little attention to detail. That people in the dealership just don’t care. It leaves them wondering about the entire experience they will have in your dealership.

Many modern dealerships have separate staff changerooms or bathrooms.  Don’t forget those either. Show your staff that they’re as important to you as you tell them. Keep these facilities updated, looking fresh and well maintained.  Spend a little to invest in the spaces that the people who generate the revenue have to use each day.  It will go a long way in maintaining positive employee morale.

So yes, on many levels, bathrooms matter in your dealership.

In the case of older bathrooms, finishes start to look worn and despite your best efforts, need a refresh.  When was the last time you used your customer bathrooms?  Did you really look at them with an impartial eye? If you look at your bathrooms and think that maybe they’re looking a little tired, they are.  Consider inviting a few independent opinions.

Tired sink area with dirty grout and caulking in dealership bathroom
While the above sink area is clean, the stained caulking and dated fixtures give a very poor impression. This is what they will take away from their experience at your store.

Invest in your bathrooms – your customers will notice

 ID Automotive approaches every project, large or small, as an opportunity to really accentuate the customer touch points. Bathrooms are always at the top of the list. When designing, renovating or building a new facility, the incremental expense to upgrade the bathrooms is minimal. A few examples: Upgraded tile, solid surface or concrete counter tops, water closets with full height louver doors verses the old school institutional stainless steels toilet partitions. All these upgrades that can be easily paid for with savings from somewhere else in the project.

Beautiful sink area in dealership bathroom
Pinehurst Toyota’s team in Southern Pines North Carolina understand that bathrooms matter in your dealership. These pictures really show the attention to detail that makes the difference, and lifts customers experience in their store.

Working with the Pinehurst Toyota Team in North Carolina, we were able to create some exceptional bathrooms that customers love. I know this for a fact.  The first week the store was open, I was sitting in the Café, having a coffee and checking my email. Sitting in the space gives you an impression of how customers perceive the project. As I sat there, two customers and one of the sales staff (who didn’t know my role) all commented on how great the bathrooms were. In fact, the salesperson told me if I hadn’t seen the bathrooms, I should check them out before I left. Its obvious that bathrooms matter to these people.

Boutique hand soap in car dealership bathroom
“Using thoughtful design brings surprisingly high attention and appreciation for the unexpected details in the space.” – Ashley Holderfield, Pinehurst Toyota

“You’ll learn more from Contractors than you ever will in Architecture School”

Hiring the right architect for your dealership project

Hiring the right architect for your dealership project, is a vital part of a successful construction project
Currently under construction in Virginia, the new headquarters for the Exclusive Automotive Group was designed by the Penney Design Group, an architectural firm with experience on a broad range of building types and a team focused on the Automotive Industry.

If I had written on this topic 25 years ago, you would have said I was biased.

Back then, I was working for a large architectural firm in Boston and later in Chicago. I drafted up construction drawings, built models, and ultimately oversaw construction projects. The drawings the firm sent out were without comparison, I thought.

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Managing our clients projects so they can focus on their business

When I first set out to write on this topic, the title was going to be “The Top 5 Reasons for a Dealership Owner to Hire an Owner’s Representative”. But as I mentioned in my previous post, while there are other firms that do specialize in representing dealership owners in managing their construction projects, our company takes a broader approach. Therefore, the term “Owners Representative” falls a bit short in truly describing who we are and what we do. As a dealership owner, facility upgrades, manufacturer brand standards, relocations, building improvements, and maintenance are all things that distract you from your daily business. Simply put, our approach is to be the resource for all your facility needs. From start to finish and even afterwards we stay engaged, even helping you maintain your facility well after the ribbon cutting is done and you’re occupying your new project.

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Why don’t you go out on your own?

When first presented with the idea of writing a blog, I immediately pushed back thinking, “I am not a writer and I don’t have time to sit down and write about what is on my task list.” Then as I looked back at how ID Automotive came to be, I thought “how could I not?” How could I not share my experiences and give some insight that could help our dealer clients with their car dealership projects. After all, I was encouraged to venture out on my own by some highly respected peers in the Automotive industry, so paying it forward seems right.

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