Ron Redfern attended the NADA convention to spend money -- lots of it.
His company, Summit Automotive Partners of Centennial, Colo., is spending $25 million during the next year to build or renovate eight dealerships. That means more than half of the company's 13 stores in Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Tennessee will be under construction at the same time.
Redfern, director of finance and strategic development, says the issues explored in the NADA-commissioned study of facility-improvement programs really hit home for him.
"Many of our dealerships need the image -- they're older designs," he said. But "certain buildings are much more challenging, and you're trying to get the image program to fit the site and the current locations."
Summit was formed in 2007. Its controlling partner is George Gillett, an American businessman who once owned the Montreal Canadiens hockey team. It ranks No. 34 on the Automotive News list of the top 125 dealership groups in the United States with retail sales of 13,312 new vehicles in 2010.
Summit's eight projects cover Toyota, Honda, General Motors, Ford, Mazda and Subaru. Construction is scheduled to begin this year.
But challenges and frustrations constantly crop up. Getting architectural approvals from manufacturers and community planners can be tough. Sometimes a local planning board rejects a manufacturer-designated element, and Redfern must negotiate details.
Sometimes it's difficult to retrofit a building to the manufacturer's preferred design. For instance, Redfern is devising a plan for an existing GM store with a peaked roof. The problem: The metal composite panels that GM wants won't fit on the building unless the roof is removed and rebuilt at a huge additional cost, he said.
Redfern also pointed out inconsistencies in how manufacturers execute the plans.
When Summit seeks an exception to a required design element, a factory rep in one state might approve it, while the same manufacturer's rep overseeing a Summit project elsewhere might say no.
Redfern was at the NADA convention seeking vendor discounts available to members for attending. One item on his shopping list: service lifts -- he'll need 85.
That brought up another point in the NADA study: Dealers can suffer financially by using factory-designated vendors. Because Summit is building or renovating so many stores at once, it could save money by buying some materials in bulk.
Said Redfern: "We can negotiate better deals with our vendors."