NH area automotive chain stores stepping up their gameBy MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader
July 12. 2014 7:50PM
MANCHESTER - Adam Godbout dropped off his Dodge Grand Caravan for a state inspection and tires at Pep Boys on Friday and liked what he saw in the store's recently remodeled waiting area.
A flatscreen television, individually brewed cups of coffee and free Wi-Fi greet customers at the automotive chain stores in Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth and Salem.
"The best part is a place to work at a desk," the Hooksett resident said at the South Willow Street store. "Bring a laptop and accomplish something while your car's getting fixed."
With many car and tire shops accepting competitors' coupons for inspections, tires and brake jobs, Godbout said he has other close-by options.
The renovated waiting space "may change where I go" by remaining loyal to Pep Boys, Godbout said.
Some automotive dealers also are stepping up their game at a time when Americans are keeping their cars and light trucks for an average of 11.4 years, or 1.6 years longer than a decade ago, according to a recent IHS Automotive study.
Car manufacturers themselves order auto dealerships to renovate or construct new showrooms or service areas every so many years.
Craig Jewett, president and owner of Jewett Construction in Raymond, said his company has built or remodeled more than 60 dealerships around New England in the past decade.
Car dealerships are working "to create a more comforting feeling for the customer, more upscale regardless of the manufacturers," Jewett said.
Peter McNamara, president of the New Hampshire Auto Dealers Association, said the car makers require dealers to spend millions on new buildings and to meet rigid requirements, even dictating what beverages to offer customers.
"A high-end manufacturer will financially penalize a dealer if they don't have two types of juice available in the dealerships at all times along with coffee and water," McNamara said by phone from southern California, where he was attending a national auto conference. He declined to name the car maker.
Service departments are important revenue sources for dealers, he said.
"The service is always the backbone of any new or used dealership," McNamara said. "That is where they're going to cover all of their expenses if they run their operation correctly."
"People think that dealerships, particularly new car dealerships, make a killing selling new cars," McNamara said. "They definitely don't. The profit for your average new car dealer is about 3 percent, and that's in really good times."
Service and sales fuel each other.
"If you have a happy customer in your service department and you show you have good customer service and fix it right the first time and it's convenient where you can get in and get out of there, they're more likely to come back to you to buy a vehicle," McNamara said. "It's not the cappuccino."
At Pep Boys in Manchester, Service Manager Joe Palmer said employees offer a friendly greeting and comfortable waiting spot in an effort to gain an edge along the highly competitive South Willow Street.
"You've got to do something to keep people coming back," he said.