Some dealers resist automakers' requests for fancier stores. Not Michael Cantanucci.
During the height of the recession, Cantanucci, president of New Country Motor Car Group in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., spent nearly $42 million to build two new stores in Florida, a Mercedes-Benz store in North Palm Beach and a Ferrari store in West Palm Beach, and to extensively renovate his Mercedes-Benz stores in Florida and Connecticut to meet the brand's Autohaus standards.
He also improved his Connecticut BMW store within the past 18 months.
Says Cantanucci, 58: "I made commitments to the manufacturers, and I felt obligated to honor my commitments -- and I did."
He also thinks it's good business.
Cantanucci is convinced the new store designs -- combined with new sales processes and intensive personnel training -- will help him sell more cars.
The Autohaus look is clean and contemporary and gives Mercedes-Benz for the first time the consistent dealership look that BMW, Lexus and Porsche have, Cantanucci says.
"Back when my other dealerships were built, there was not a consistent, established brand image design. So Mercedes-Benz dealers built somewhat to their own taste. Consequently, Mercedes-Benz dealership appearance was all over the board," he says.
He predicts his dealership group's growth will come from the German brands as they launch smaller front-wheel-drive and plug-in electric vehicles aimed at younger buyers.
In January, Cantanucci became head of the Mercedes-Benz Dealer Board. He is part of the brand's efforts to develop sales processes for the coming fwd cars -- a coupe, small wagon and possibly a convertible that will start arriving in the United States around 2013.
The project is in the early stages but the target, Cantanucci says, is "common sense processes" and the use of technology embraced by younger buyers, including mobile devices.
"We need to use iPads. We need to get ready to interface with the younger buyers so we can talk their language and be more tech-savvy, like they are," he says.
Cantanucci is a believer in processes and training.
He says his business has grown every year because processes -- the way the dealerships do business in every area from sales to delivery -- have been standardized. "That makes for a predictable environment so our employees are not guessing," he says.
His group enrolls employees "for all available manufacturer training," and spent $1 million on these programs last year, he says.