Forget those rows of black vinyl-back chairs, the odor of stale popcorn and piles of old magazines. Today's customer-focused dealerships have children's play rooms, Internet hookup, cappuccino bars, personal greeters - even putting greens - in their service waiting areas.
It's all to make the consumer more comfortable.
'You provide some extra services and it takes the tension off the wait,' says Molly Padovini, service director of Elder Ford in Troy, Mich. The dealership fixes 75 to 100 cars and light trucks a day at its bustling store near a regional shopping mall.
A $2.5 million renovation this year included a 20-foot putting green. There's also a floor-to-ceiling mural of a coastal California golf course, a live ficus tree and a picket fence.
At the back end of its showroom, Elder Ford added a cappuccino bar with sandwiches, burritos and Krispy Kreme donuts, staffed by an outside vendor. Employees no longer leave for lunch. And customers can grab a sandwich and an oil change on their break.
The traditional waiting room is divided into two sections, a cafe overlooking a plate glass window with a fresh supply of daily newspapers and current magazines and a back section with upholstered chairs and a wide-screen TV. The new store also has an enclosed playroom with Disney videos, toys and stuffed animals.
'Enhancing the waiting room makes good sense,' says Mike Morrissey, public relations director for the National Automobile Dealers Association. 'We remind dealers that they must pay attention to clicks and bricks. They want to be Internet-savvy and they need to have something unique awaiting customers who visit them.'
Tony Elder, general manager of Elder Ford, says he got the idea of a putting green by visiting Massey Cadillac in Orlando, Fla. The 140,000-square-foot showroom - a converted shopping plaza - includes an indoor driving range, pool table, coffee bar, restaurant and Internet station.
'No question about it,' says Massey Cadillac General Manager Mark Naszradi, 'the driving range and other features help us build relationships with customers. They often bring friends while they wait for their cars so they have someone to golf with.'
Putting more people on the service driveway and in the customer waiting area makes a critical difference for Tom Kelley, owner of Kelley Automotive Group, which has stores in Indiana and Georgia.
To improve the service experience for customers, Kelley initiated a policy of hiring senior citizens as greeters. They bring coffee to waiting customers, prune the magazine pile to remove outdated or damaged copies and chat with those waiting for their vehicles.
Says Kelley: 'People come here to purchase a service, and we want to make sure they are served.'