Automobile dealership gets update

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There is a handsome new façade on the Steamboat Motors Ford and Dodge dealership. But that's just the beginning.

"Most importantly, we created a modern space for our customers and employees in this 1950s-era steel building," owner John Centner said. "We gutted it from front to back."

Along with the new façade with its heavy timbers, all of the public spaces at Steamboat Motors have been transformed. In the showroom, a slate floor has replaced commercial carpeting. The sales offices are open and brighter. The service writers no longer work amid the din of pneumatic wrenches. And people who arrive to have their vehicles serviced can park out of the weather.

The waiting area has satellite television, or if you prefer to get some work done, there's a high-speed data port right next to your chair. The waiting room is decorated with framed automotive prints and model cars are displayed on custom shelves.

"My wife, Lee, has spent many hours decorating the entire place," Centner said. "I think she did a wonderful job."

Centner said Steamboat Motors weighed a couple of options before undertaking the remodel.

"We're kind of landlocked here in terms of what we can do," he said.

He considered bulldozing the facility, but that would have necessitated a temporary location. After talking to contractors and architects, Centner decided to go with a thorough remodel.

"We replaced every piece of glass, tile and exterior rock," he said.

Architects who specialize in automotive dealerships were considered, but in the end, he went with Eric Smith and Associates, which has offices in Boulder and Steamboat. The choice was made in part because of Smith's knowledge of the city of Steamboat's approval process.

Centner said he was prepared for a difficult city planning process, but his concerns didn't prove out.

"I felt the process was anything but frustrating," Centner said. "The city planners were very firm on their guidelines, but they worked with us to ensure that their conditions allowed us to meet our own goals."

The general contractor on the project was Holmquist Lorenz.

"Travis Holmquist and his team did an outstanding job of dealing with the unknown that comes with a remodel of an older building," Centner said. "They stayed close to budget and being on time. There's a tremendous number of great contractors in this town. Holmquist Lorenz had the time when we needed them most."

The project included a 1,400-square-foot addition, but much of it involved reconfiguring the interior of the existing building.

"Our old business office is now a waiting room," Centner said. "It's hard to realize now, that four people used to work in this space."

Room with a view

The addition created space for a new finance office and a handsome executive office for Centner. For the first time, he has a window that looks onto his sales room floor.

"Previously, my office was upstairs and I had no visual on the sales floor," Centner said. "I come from a sales background, and it was driving me stark raving crazy."

Some of the most significant improvements have been made in areas most customers never will visit.

Driving by on U.S. Highway 40, it's the big pickups and sport utility vehicles that catch motorists' eyes. Many people probably have never noticed that Steamboat Motors has a second story disguised within its steel frame. And that's where some of the most significant changes have been made.

The remodel of the dealership has allowed it to make more efficient use of the upstairs portion of the building. Centner's old office space was expanded to accommodate a large conference table.

A large room that formerly was used to store random stuff and a fair amount of dust was cleaned up and nicely furnished to provide offices for the controller and the assistant office manager. One small room is dedicated to the computer servers that play an increasingly important role as the dealership's link to lending institutions and automotive manufacturers in Detroit.

"We're trying to move toward a more paperless industry," Centner said. "And we've became really modern in terms of interacting with the manufacturers."

The Detroit carmakers now host interactive training sessions from video studios in Detroit, he said. His staff can "attend" the sessions via satellite link, and even have the ability to ask questions during the presentation.

The automotive technicians have a new locker room and lunchroom, complete with shower and changing rooms.

Customers bringing their vehicles to Steamboat Motors for service now arrive into a different world. Previously, they stepped through a steel door and described the noises their cars and trucks were making to the service writers over a small counter. All the while, they were just steps away from the repair bays. The remodel created a big, bright carport for arriving customers.

"We're still learning how to use it to its best advantage," Centner said.

From there, customers step into a separate room housing a modern service desk, relatively insulated from the noise of the service bays.

The Steamboat Motors site -- which is narrow and deep -- is atypical of car dealerships, Centner said. Most dealerships are built on parcels of land with wide street frontages that allow them to display as many cars as possible.

The constraints of the Steamboat Motors site mean potential customers can see only about 15 vehicles as they drive by.

"It's a little-known fact that, on any given day, we have between 80 and 130 new vehicles and 40 to 60 used vehicles, which translates into a $5 million inventory."

Centner is optimistic the newly modernized facility will offer customers a better shopping experience.

"We're able to do this because of the commitment of our employees to providing exceptional service to our customer base," he said. "All of our customers who have come in since the remodel have found this is a new place and a new experience. The fact that it was possible for us is a tribute to our customers as much as it is a tribute to our desire to be modernized."

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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