Putting on the Ritz

Tourist attractions in New York are almost limitless,buta Manhattan car dealership is setting itself up to be yet another. After a $15 million renovation of its historic building, the Manhattan Auto Group (MAG) features lifestyle events, concierge services and facilities that may be unique in vehicle retailing. We are trying to make our facility a destination point, says Gary B. Flom, president of

Tourist attractions in New York are almost limitless,buta Manhattan car dealership is setting itself up to be yet another.

After a $15 million renovation of its historic building, the Manhattan Auto Group (MAG) features lifestyle events, concierge services and facilities that may be unique in vehicle retailing.

“We are trying to make our facility a destination point,” says Gary B. Flom, president of the Ford Motor Co. multi-brand operation that has the exclusive franchises in the Big Apple for Ford, Lincoln Mercury, Mazda, Land Rover and Jaguar.

Flom oversaw the renovation of aging, unattractive showrooms into an ultra-modern vehicle emporium that is light, airy and inviting.

Despite a lengthy and disruptive construction period in which its building was sheathed in scaffolding, MAG achieved a 26% growth in sales year over year in 2003. The five franchises sold more than 3,800 vehicles, mostly new, last year. A surprising 60% of the sales were SUVs.

Flom says MAG's newly renovated building will help push sales to about 5,000 vehicles in 2004 and eventually 7,000 by 2007.

The year-long project transformed the 76-year-old building that was originally designed by Albert Kahn for the Packard Motor Car Co. into a contemporary showplace.

Original cobblestones of a Packard test track are still visible on the roof of the building that's on 11th Ave. between 54th and 55th Streets, near the Hudson River.

A multilingual sales force of 46 can converse with non-English speaking customers in Russian, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Portugese, Italian and Greek.

That comes in handy because New York may be the most polyglot city in the world.

Flom says: “The New York consumer has unique needs and expectations and we are addressing those needs and expectations by transforming our company.

“In transforming our business, we are not simply creating an updated auto showroom and service facility, but rather a complete lifestyle, entertainment and shopping experience.”

Every sales person is equipped with a wireless tablet computer that allows easy access to answers to customers' questions.

MAG's showrooms and service departments occupy eight acres, vertically stacked.

The new entrance opens into a striking 30-foot-highatriumandacircular balustrade. There are two reception desks. One of the receptionists is a full-fledged concierge trained to do everything you would expect in a five-star hotel. The concierge can obtain theater tickets, make restaurant reservations or provide other services. There's also a Starbucks café.

The space is a mixture of old and new. Over the vehicle display areas are old ducts and pipes left over from the building's industrial past. Designers have blended these artifacts with modern showroom elements.

Each brand's space is designed to bring out the essence of that marque. The Ford dealership takes up half of the ground floor. Itfeatures SUVs displayed on boulders and rocks to recreate an off-road environment.

To amplify this theme, the floor tiles in the Ford SUV center are designed to resemble thedesert floor in Utah. There are cues of Monument Valley peaks.

MAG reinforces this rugged design with a 15-foot-high rock climbing wall. Customers are offered rock climbing classes by experienced instructors on a weekly basis.

Flom says there will be lifestyle programs presented for all the brands.

Furniture in each showroom is specifically picked to convey a feeling of each brand. It is elegant for Jaguar and Lincoln Mercury, more rugged for the Land Rover and Ford truck display areas.

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