June 17, 2019
Most people who bring a car into the dealership for a tune-up or a repair come prepared with a book or a laptop, a cup of upscale coffee or tea, a smartphone, and as much patience as they possibly can muster.
Progress reports are few and far between, asking plaintive questions at the intake area of the auto service department is frowned upon, and the hours stretch ahead—time you will never get back, but will pay for (in big bucks, for labor and parts).
And the waiting rooms, themselves? They tend to be forlorn places, with cable news on a glitchy TV and last year’s copy of Newsweek, if you’re lucky.
But now, all that is changing, The New York Times reports. Today, you can get blackened chicken or grilled salmon on the lunch menu at Honda of Fort Worth, or a complimentary workout at the fitness center attached to the Lincoln-Mercury/Land Rover-Jaguar store in Merritt Island, Florida, the news outlet informs us—assuming you wouldn’t rather play pool or watch a movie.
This amenity-laden shift can be traced straight to dealers’ bottom lines. Vehicle sales may be down this year, but service revenues continue to be reliable—and promise to grow, if dealers can make vehicle maintenance a more engaging experience.
Already, at the end of 2018, half a typical dealer’s gross profits came from the service department, according to Patrick Manzi, senior economist at the National Automobile Dealers Association.
“Service and parts are very important to dealerships right now,” Mr. Manzi told the Times. “Cars are selling on the internet, and there’s more competition and more access to vehicle prices than ever before. Margins from selling new cars have been consistently on the decline, so dealers are focusing on service. They’ve realized they can help grow customer loyalty by standing out in the amenities.”
According to the Times report, Lexus might be the pacesetter in this cushy new world— and women are being specially targeted and pampered, with beauty services and childcare.
“In one of our stores in San Antonio, Texas, we have a free coffee bar with snacks, a manicurist and a masseuse,” Kimberly Sherron, the dealer facilities manager and design leader at Lexus, told the news outlet “In Wichita, Kansas, you can drop your vehicle off at the service department, get taken to the airport and then picked up when you come back. In the Tampa area, we have a store that features a manned barista bar, with free macchiatos, croissants, and sandwiches.”
Ms. Sherron added, “They go above and beyond.”
That may be understatement, but this new twist on the waiting room is not just for luxury brands like Lexus. A range of dealerships have been adding amenities.
Toyota— a notch downscale from the same Japanese company—has a play area for children in its Chesapeake, Virginia dealership, as well as (can you believe it?) a movie theater, a hair salon and a shoeshine area. On Wednesdays, it provides free manicures.
What’s more, the Times reports, automakers also are supporting their brands with “experience centers” that are even more over the top. At Intersect by Lexus—dubbed “An Immersive Cultural Space”—in Manhattan, which opened last fall after similar centers in Dubai and Tokyo, there’s an auto parts wall installation, fine dining with rotating chefs (currently, one cooking avant-garde tapas from Chile), a circular bar featuring the same leather used on Lexus car seats, and a third-floor exhibition space.
“It’s an homage to the cars,” Kirk Edmondson, the general manager, told the newspaper. “We reference the brand’s legacy of hospitality, design and craftsmanship — but we don’t scream about it.”
Research contact: @nytimes