When Brighton Ford redesigned its service drive four years ago, the Brighton, Mich., dealership added one feature to the parts department that had nothing to do with spark plugs or windshield wipers: a convenience store.
A short distance from the brake rotors and oil filters is a 10-foot-by-15-foot section of shelves filled with sodas, chips, candy, nuts and other assorted goodies one would find at any small but well-stocked corner bodega.
And like everything else in Brighton's parts department, the edibles sell at a profit and at a pace that might have other dealers raising an askance eyebrow toward their vending machines, said service director Rex Thompson.
"The vending machine companies always wanted more and more, and it just wasn't convenient for our employees or our customers," Thompson said. "I got the idea while I was at a local gas station. I looked around the store and said, "We can do this.'"
The result is an average of $300 a day in added sales to the parts department, all at about a 40 percent profit, Thompson said.
"It shocked me how much money it generates."
Brighton Ford, about 50 miles northwest of Detroit, sells about 200 new and 125 used vehicles a month. Before the parts department started selling food, employees would often spend 20 minutes or so driving elsewhere in Brighton for a snack or a meal. With the store in the building, that doesn't happen very often anymore, Thompson said.
"They will get something here instead of going down the road. That was the main purpose behind it," he explained, "to have them stay here, instead of having them spend 20 minutes on the road."
Like any convenience store owner, Thompson buys his groceries from a local distributor, who sends a delivery truck to the dealership every other week. In addition, the dealership maintains contracts with soft drink companies to supply the store's selection of soda, juice and bottled water.
Also like any other convenience store, the dealership dedicates a small racked area elsewhere in the parts department to store what doesn't fit on the shelves.
Sales are handled by the dealership's cashier, who rings up the candy bars, gum and other sundries using the bar codes on the packaging.
Brighton Ford service manager Troy Willis said he and other employees will frequently offer suggestions as to what products should be carried in the convenience store.
"They have books of products, and get opinions of what we want. And then those are the products that they get," Willis said.
Joked Thompson: "We have a variety of different foods, from healthy foods to the stuff that people really like."