Customers driving toward Allen Samuels Chevrolet have no doubt where the service entrance is. It's out front, next to the showroom.
The reason is simple, says owner Samuels, who built his Houston dealership three years ago. His service business - measured by profits per sales dollar - is 10 times more profitable than new-car sales.
As the auto industry enjoys a dealership building boom, architects are borrowing sophisticated design techniques from resorts, malls, hotels and other customer-friendly buildings. Their goal: to make customers feel safe, unpressured and ready to spend.
And in their eagerness to maximize profits, architects are rejecting the conventional wisdom of past dealership design. For example, more dealers are giving their service and parts departments prominent locations, a trend started by Saturn and Lexus in the 1990s.
In Port Arthur, Texas, Samuels just completed a 70,000-square-foot Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge store that typifies the dealership of the future. It's big - 16 acres. It's on the edge of town, fronting an expressway. And it's adjacent to big-box retailers such as Lowe's, Wal-Mart Supercenter and Office Max.
"The traffic is great," Samuels says.
His old store, in downtown Port Arthur, occupied 25,000 square feet in a former bowling alley. "My approach is 'If you build it, they will come,'" he says. "You got to have a great facility."
The cost, excluding the land: $6 million.