The smell of cappuccinos in the bistro wafts across the room as several customers lounge in leather chairs while reading or watching CNN track a hurricane on a large flat-screen TV. Designer polo shirts, hats and other accoutrements available for purchase are tastefully displayed nearby.
It looks like an upscale coffeehouse, except it is the waiting area of JM Lexus's new service department. There is a similar waiting area upstairs.
A decorative curved ceiling creates a rotunda-like feel. In addition to the bistro and plush furniture, there is broadband Internet access. Soon the entire waiting area will provide wireless connection.
One can expect some extra touches at a Lexus dealership. But JM has gone way beyond the requirements Lexus stipulates for its dealers.
Tom Ryals, JM's fixed operations director, likens the service department waiting area to that of a Ritz Carlton lobby.
The Margate, FL, dealership opened its new 132,000-sq.-ft. service facility in December. JM maintained the same design cues, including the rotunda design and bistro, used in the showroom facility built four years ago.
The showroom consists of used vehicles on one side and new vehicles on the other. The entire showroom is one large room with the bistro and sitting area in the center, under the rotunda.
Rick Jorden, design director for JM Family Enterprises, the dealership's owner, worked out the look for both the showroom and service departments with the Paulik Design Firm.
“We've done a lot with them,” he says. “They know what we're looking for.”
Jorden says he picks up design cues from everywhere, including MTV, which he sometimes watches. “I like to stay on top of what's hip,” he says. “The images are powerful.”
Everything about the construction project was thought out. “We wanted to build a facility that respects the customer's time,” Ryals says.
The dealership revamped its processes to match the new facility. Now, a greeter outside meets each customer while a service advisor does a quick walk around using a tablet PC. The greeter then takes the customer inside, shows them around and gets them situated.
Even the bathrooms for the service department area are special. The design is casual luxury. “The restrooms' design is another touch to help the customer feel comfortable,” Ryals says.
But it is where the repair work is done that sets a high standard for service departments.
There are 14 drive-over bays used for routine maintenance on the ground floor. The drive-over service bay is a relatively new concept for service departments, although common in quick lube places. The bay consists of one above ground and one in a pit below the vehicle.
“We can work on the interior of the vehicle and underneath it at the same time,” Ryals says. The service department averages less than 30 minutes per vehicle for routine maintenance.
That includes washing every vehicle. Each drive-over service bay has its own high-powered car wash.
Jorden says he has visited three dealerships that have drive-over service bays, but do not get the value because they don't have enough car washes.
“They want to wash the cars, but end up with a backlog of vehicles,” he says. “We don't have that problem here. We made the extra investment for the customer.”
Also important are high-speed fabric doors built by RyTec that separate the bays from the car washes. “Without those doors, everything would be wet,” says Don Beddia, JM's assistant fixed operations director. “They were one of the first things we couldn't wait to start playing around with.”
Designing the drive-over bays was difficult. “We went through gyrations at getting the flow and turning radiuses to work,” Jorden says. “It took a team effort to make it work.”
Because of excessive water in the ground, after the cement floor was laid for the pit area, JM had to hold it down by putting a pool of water over it. The city of Margate made JM chlorinate the water and provide life preservers for people to grab on to if they fell in.
“The drive-over bays are the talk of the town,” says Jorden. “We have a lot of dealers coming down to look at it.”
A ramp leads to the upstairs area where there are 46 bays for the more serious work. Each bay has a Rotary Power lift. Those also were a challenge, Beddia says. “We had to make sure each vehicle fit on the rack, which wasn't easy because Lexus has some larger vehicles than it has had in the past.”
Snap-on toolboxes designed for JM Lexus line the walls and are easy for technicians to reach. Shelves store 80% of the parts technicians use. The other parts are in a third-floor warehouse. Technicians enter a part number into a computer. That order prints upstairs and an aide pulls the part and sends it to the service department by a dumbwaiter.
“You don't realize at first all of the little things that can slow you down if you don't think through each piece,” Beddia says.
The employees also get first-class treatment at JM. There are separate workout facilities for the men and women complete with state of the art shower and locker rooms.
JM declines to say how much money went into the facility. But early returns are strong. “Our revenue is 12% higher with the new facility,” Ryals says. “The number of vehicles being fixed is up significantly. The potential was always there.”
Coping with the Pains of Construction
By Cliff Banks
JM Lexus spent much of 2004 building a 132,000-sq-ft. service facility. This came on the heels of building a new showroom facility four years ago. Like many construction efforts, it was painful.
Tom Ryals, the dealership's fixed operations director, laughs now telling how the staff had to work out of construction trailers. “We spent a lot of time eating deer and beef jerky and drinking bad coffee,” he says.
Ryals laments that he spent most of the construction phase in the singlewide trailer while luckier others were in the doublewide.
“But at least we stayed open for the entire time,” Ryals says. “And the dealership was able to maintain its Lexus Elite standing.”
JM even had to contend with three hurricanes during the building phase. Three times the dealership had to spend a day taking down scaffolding 4- stories high and another day putting it back up.
The hurricanes last year convinced JM to spend extra money on hurricane-resistant windows. “We would lose a couple of days of work preparing the shutters,” Ryals says. “Another season like last year, the windows will pay for themselves.”
“The key ingredient for us was the phase-in process we developed,” says Rick Jorden, director of design for JM Family Enterprises. “We kept day-to-day business operations going and even managed to increase business.”
Jorden speculates the dealership might have been able to knock six or seven months off the time needed to build the facility if it were closed for construction.
The design team put together a color-coded chart outlining each step of the process so everybody in the dealership knew what was going on.
“Many dealerships don't take the time up front to put something like that together, and that can create problems during the construction,” Jorden says.
Being part of a large organization such as JM Family Enterprises helps. “We've gone through this a few times,” Jorden says. “We had a pretty good idea of what and what not to do.”
JM has a safety and risk management security division that was involved from the beginning. “They helped a lot in catching things we may not have thought of,” Jorden says. “Although, there were times when you would think, ‘I've got to listen to them again.’”
Parking became a big issue. The dealership had to choose between building a $4 million parking garage or spending $2.5 million to build a parking lot over a retention pond.
The dealership filled the pond with pea gravel then put girders across and covered it with cement pavement. “That's a lot of money for a retention pond, but it makes sense when you think of the alternative,” Jorden says. “It gave us an extra 300 spaces — only 50 fewer than the structure would have generated.”
Jorden says that more dealerships in areas of high-water concentration will deal with this issue as they look to add more parking.