In place of an attention-grabbing storefront along busy Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in the suburb of Chamblee is the glass-and-steel framework of what will eventually be showrooms for Ford Motor Co.'s two brands. Hennessy Automobile Cos., the family-owned Atlanta retailer that bought the dilapidated store in 2014, is investing millions of dollars to overhaul the dealership, expected to open this winter.
Until then, the dealership's managers and employees are doing what they can to get people through the door and help them navigate a car purchase or service visit in the midst of construction chaos.
Automotive News spent the final Saturday of September at Hennessy Ford to see just how that happens on the busiest day of the month.
New-vehicle sales are operating out of a makeshift office inside eight connected construction trailers, the department's temporary home since November. Parking is limited. The dealership pays more than $45,000 a month to lease off-site space, including a used-vehicle sales building and four storage lots to hold most of its vehicle inventory. That means sales reps have to shuttle many would-be buyers back and forth just to see a vehicle that might work for them. In Atlanta's congested traffic, a round trip of just a few miles can take 45 minutes at rush hour. The whole buying process takes hours.
Yet even amid the delays and confusion, sales are up at Hennessy Ford.
In August, the dealership was first in its zone among Ford stores within the Atlanta market, fourth in the entire Atlanta region and 11th (out of 440 Ford dealerships) in the Southeast, according to figures provided by Zak Warner, Hennessy's platform sales director.
A focus on setting up customer appointments and converting those visits into sales has contributed to this year's sales growth, Warner said.
"We've continued to try to drive our business," Warner said, "as opposed to waiting on it to show up."
Still, with dust and delays common, some customers do give up out of frustration.
"You can't be mad at those people," Jonathan Chambers, a new-vehicle sales consultant who got into the business seven years ago, told Automotive News on a return trip from one of those vehicle overflow lots.
"I always explain to them: 'Listen, I understand,' " said Chambers, who worked at the dealership before Hennessy bought it, left for a few years and returned in 2017. " 'We're building this nice dealership to better our service. But ... in the meantime, this is what we have to do, and I'm going to make the rest of the experience as best as I can. Please allow me the opportunity.' Most people will agree with you."