A new multi-level building on South Federal Highway could have passed for a museum or an art gallery when construction crews finished it. The west side of the building is a five-level parking garage, and the east side, along Federal, is a two-story structure where a white facade frames glass walls. But the glassy two-story space is now a showroom filled with BMWs, not art or museum pieces, and the parking garage serves as auto inventory storage.
“It is the largest BMW showroom in the country,” says Ken Loiseau, general manager of Lauderdale BMW, which moved in July from a location across the street to its new address at 1441 S Federal Hwy.
The striking look of Lauderdale BMW’s new home is part of a broader trend among luxury auto dealerships to modernize their showrooms while maximizing land by getting away from the old dealership-surrounded-by-a-car-lot model. Audi Fort Lauderdale and Mercedes-Benz of Fort Lauderdale have done something similar at their Federal Highway locations. “A luxury customer expects a certain purchase experience when they come in,” Loiseau says. “You can see what Audi did up the street. Mercedes of Fort Lauderdale has a large facility down the street. That’s kind of what you’re seeing from the luxury car companies. That’s the direction.”
Auto dealers modernizing Fort Lauderdale-area showrooms appear to be building on local-market momentum. Figures from the state Department of Revenue show that taxable sales at Broward County auto dealerships in the first quarter of the year totaled $1.5 billion, almost unchanged from the January-March period last year. Broward auto dealers’ taxable sales totaled $5.9 billion last year – 55 percent more than the post-recession total of $3.8 billion back in 2010.
Lauderdale BMW has been selling about 2,000 vehicles a year, Loiseau says, and the number is expected to spike higher for several reasons, including the look and feel of the dealership’s new South Federal location. “There’s a really nice café that we put in there, with coffees, espressos and fresh snacks,” he says. “We make it a luxury experience for the customer when they come in.”
They still come in, even in the new age of online shopping, for an experience the internet can’t convey. “There’s a statistic that people used to visit a dealership three times before making a purchase. It’s now down to one and a half times before they actually buy a vehicle,” Loiseau says. “All their shopping is done online.”
Of course, buyers still want to see cars firsthand before making a purchase, so bigger and better dealerships have popped up around town to accommodate them. Loiseau notes that there’s also a new MINI facility just down the street, next to Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza.
Holman Automotive Group, the New Jersey-based dealership group that includes Lauderdale BMW and Lauderdale MINI, has been driving the new dealership development. In recent years, Holman acquired almost the entire block where it built a new home for Lauderdale BMW. In a 2014 survey by trade publication Automotive News, Holman ranked as the 49th-largest auto dealership group in the nation with 17,033 new-vehicle sales.
Selling should be easier at the new Lauderdale BMW location, where the five-level garage has inventory storage space for as many as 700 vehicles, plus ground-floor parking for customers. Prior to the opening of the dealership’s new home and its storage garage, Lauderdale BMW’s inventory was “scattered all over Fort Lauderdale,” Loiseau says. “It’s 20 to 25 minutes round-trip to go get a car and bring it back. So, it’s just not an efficient way of doing business.”
He said the look of the new showroom is a carefully conceived style that many other BMW dealers are adopting. “This approach is what BMW refers to as ‘future retail,’” he says, “and a lot of their dealers across the country are going through this type of new design.”
The Lauderdale BMW location exemplifies a trend toward low-rise garages for inventory storage and away from car lots. The old design of a dealership “surrounded by a car lot is long gone,” says Doug Snyder, a partner of FSMY, a Fort Lauderdale-based architectural firm that worked on the design of Lauderdale BMW’s new building. “Nobody has the land to do that. So, you’re starting to see a lot more vertical garages to handle inventory.”
Customers get their BMWs serviced at an off-site location on South Andrews Avenue – a pre-existing setup that kept a repair-and-maintenance shop out of the design of the new space, centering its design on showcasing cars. “This is strictly a showroom,” Snyder says.
Some of the design details imply that BMW sees links between car sales and color schemes. Snyder said the German car maker insists that new BMW dealerships have white exteriors. A new dealership with a metallic colored exterior, he says, “is absolutely prohibited by BMW. Everything has to be white.” His firm even failed to win approval to put some accent colors on the garage side of the white Lauderdale BMW building.
Snyder has worked the other end of the exterior-color spectrum at a nearby dealership development. FSMY has designed new facilities for Holman Automotive for more than a decade, including the service center on South Andrews and the new South Federal MINI dealership – which has an all-black exterior.
“It’s a totally different concept,” compared with the look of the new Lauderdale BMW location, Snyder says. “Initially they [MINI] would do the black with bright-color accents …[but] they’ve gotten away from that.”