This tile, that gray: Chevy's store plan by the book
Laundry list of changes pits design vs. bonuses
Dealer Tommy Brasher is preparing to rip the metal exterior off his Weimar, Texas, Chevrolet store. And he's excited about it.
Sure, it'll cost him more than $100,000 to install the bright blue aluminum-paneled archway and silver fascia required to comply with Chevrolet's dealer-image program. And the façade he has up now is still in good shape.
But Brasher says he has "no problem with what they've asked me to do with the outside of the building. I think it'll look great, and I'll be proud of it."
His enthusiasm fades, though, when the discussion turns to his interior renovations.
A review of Chevy's facility design guidelines, obtained by Automotive News, offers a window into the numerous vendor-specific requirements and control over the renovation process being exerted by General Motors as described by Brasher and other dealers who are overhauling their stores.
Dealers with experience across the brand spectrum say Chevrolet -- reflecting the position of GM as a whole -- has one of the most prescriptive and stringent programs in the industry, except for a few of the luxury brands. And some of the meticulously detailed requirements have dealers shaking their heads.
"They're micromanaging this process to a ridiculous degree," says Brasher, a former co-chairman of the Chevrolet National Dealer Council.
The wrong gray
In his parts department waiting area, Brasher just spent $7,000 to have a subcontractor lay light gray tile over darker colored tile that Brasher had installed just one year ago. He recently yanked dozens of pieces of dark gray Herman Miller furniture to make way for blond pieces from the same manufacturer.
He's spending $4,500 on a greeter station that Chevrolet wants him to build -- even though nobody will sit in it since his salespeople intercept every customer who walks in the door. Brasher jokes that he should build the greeter station on wheels so he can cart it out of the showroom once GM approves his store makeover.
Alan Batey: The makeover was "well overdue."
Biggest makeover ever?
Chevrolet's image program has become the poster child for the controversy over automakers' facility requirements. That is partly because of the sheer magnitude of the effort: GM believes it has undertaken what is probably the biggest transformation of a dealer network in the industry's history.
By 2016, Chevrolet expects at least 2,500 of its 3,000 dealers to complete the voluntary facility overhaul, pouring roughly $3 billion into their stores.
The breadth of the overhaul underscores just how badly the Chevy dealer network needs it, says Alan Batey, Chevy's vice president of sales and service. GM estimates that 60 percent of its dealerships were built before the mid-1970s.
When GM launched the image program in 2009, Batey says, only about 5 percent of Chevy dealerships met the brand's standards -- one of the industry's lowest marks. He says that put Chevrolet at a competitive disadvantage against brands such as Toyota and Honda.
"We were well overdue for this massive network makeover," Batey says. "We needed to transform the look and feel of our franchise. It was definitely one of the key strategies we needed to implement to be successful."
Many dealers agree and are forging ahead despite the expense and months-long headache of tearing apart a store.
The program is prodding others to build new stores or relocate to take advantage of the incentive money GM pays dealerships that comply with the facilities image program. The cash can total $50,000 to $100,000 a year for small dealerships and as much as $1.5 million for the largest stores.
GM, which has similar facility programs in place for Cadillac and Buick-GMC dealerships, is quick to point out that dealers aren't required to comply. Dealers counter that if they forego an overhaul they'll be susceptible to being undercut on price by dealers who are getting the bonus cash.
Special tile, lights
The Chevy guidelines dictate everything from the distance between sales desks and the customer entrance -- at least 20 feet -- to the wall covering for the parts department. The light gray tile should be a minimum of 12-by-12 inches, preferably 16-by-16. A striped pattern -- perpendicular to the showroom facade -- is preferred.
A special type of halogen lighting is required to "present the Chevrolet vehicles to customers in the best possible light," the guidelines say. Sales offices must have glass fronts and glass doors. Specific shades of blue, silver or orange accent paint are required for the rear walls of any offices that face the showroom.
Chevrolet requires at least five framed images in the showroom -- the guidebook shows aluminum-framed shots of the Chevy Volt -- to be installed in pairs or groups. Walls 12 feet or longer should have three frames. Walls from 5 feet to 12 feet long should have two.
Dealers can purchase those pieces from only one vendor: DCI Marketing of Milwaukee. DCI also is the exclusive provider of display stands for wheels and other accessories, another requirement of the program.
Awards -- for example, a plaque honoring a dealership for community work -- should not be in the showroom, according to the rules.
Pattison Sign Group of Knoxville, Tenn., will sell all the signs required under the program, including the "Chevrolet" name across the blue archway and the stand-alone, neon blue sign with the dealer's name.
Mike Blaettner, general manager at Ray Skillman Chevrolet in Indianapolis, says GM has "complete control" over the design of a new $4 million showroom and service drive that the dealership is starting.
"Depending on what your property is like or whether you're in California or Indiana, there ought to be more choice on the materials and vendors you can use," Blaettner says. "But we're not complaining. We're following the drill."
'I'm not an interior decorator'
Chad Cummins also is following the drill. He's spending $2.5 million to replace the showroom at his dealership about an hour west of Oklahoma City. The nitty-gritty specifications don't faze Cummins.
"I'm not an interior decorator," Cummins says. "I don't care what kind of tile I walk on."
He concedes that he could have saved money if he wasn't bound by GM's vendor list. For example, he's spending about $80,000 on Chevy-specified furniture. He figures he could have done it for $60,000 on his own.
In many cases, including the greeter's station, the guidelines simply give specifications and allow dealers to use their own contractors. But Batey says it's important that features such as the entryway arch and signage are uniform.
Chevrolet's facility program is part of a massive rebranding effort. It's showcasing the new dealership image with a retail advertising campaign called "Under the Blue Arch."
TV commercials feature a sparkling new showroom with lots of shimmering glass and shiny tile. A sleek greeter's station emblazoned with the Chevy gold bowtie also makes an appearance.
Batey says: "There's a consistency around that campaign and what people are going to see happening in their cities and towns over the next two or three years."
GM points to Steve Rayman, owner of a Chevrolet store in Marietta, Ga., as an ideal before-and-after example. He recently completed a $3 million gut-and-rehab of his store, which was built in 1970.
Before the overhaul, lines sometimes would form outside the cramped two-stall bathrooms off the showroom floor. Sales desks were crammed onto the showroom floor, leaving little space for customers to view the cars and trucks.
Today nearly two dozen leather chairs -- at $1,800 a pop -- are spread across the gleaming customer lounge. Customers can peck away at their laptops or watch one of 16 flat-screen TVs.
"It's like an Apple store in here now," Rayman says. "We've become a destination. People don't want to leave."
Brasher, who sold about 350 new cars last year, says he's happy to get by with spending only $300,000 on his makeover. Despite the factory nitpicking, he says he'll be glad he did it.
But Brasher sympathizes with other small dealers who are hard-pressed to finance a teardown or relocation. In many cases, he says, customers in those small towns won't be impressed by a glitzy new showroom anyway.
"I think the process tends not to understand the small-town dealer," Brasher says. "My service techs come into my office and talk to me with greasy hands and grimy shoes."
You can reach Mike Colias at email@example.com.