Editor's note: The original version of this story, which also appeared on Page 1 of the March 11 issue, misstated the name of Ron Jona Collaborative.
Bill Underriner is building the dealership of the future. He's putting service front and center, with the showroom alongside.
Service is so important to Underriner that his showroom will shrink, in part to accommodate service business.
"When the customer drives up to the store, the first thing they're going to see is the service department," says Underriner, owner of Underriner Motors in Billings, Mont., which sells Hyundai, Volvo and Buick in one dealership and Honda in another store.
Underriner's new dealership reflects what architects and industry leaders say is a growing trend: dealerships putting the service department in the front of the building, next to the showroom. Future service departments will be bigger and grander than those of the past, which often were not much more than a small, dingy, noisy garage in the rear of the store.
Building a showcase upfront service department is not cheap. And for dealers remodeling a store rather than building a new one, it can be a logistical nightmare to renovate while keeping service bays open.
But with the service, parts and body shop generating 43 percent of an average dealership's annual gross profits, the new design pays off, many dealers say.
"The big thing depends on the site of the building and if there is space to do it," says Shane Burley, principal at Ron Jona Collaborative, an architectural firm in suburban Detroit. "Physically moving it is costly, but it's the space that matters. And a dealer would benefit by physically moving service up front."
Burley and other architects say locating the service write-up lane in the front of the building, oriented to the main street frontage, is a trend. Another is to have two customer lounges situated off the showroom. There should be a large lounge with a TV and a smaller one that is quiet for doing work, says Tony Dellicolli, founder of Cityscape Architects Inc., also of suburban Detroit.