SCHERERVILLE | Team Toyota is the latest among Northwest Indiana automobile dealerships that have invested big bucks in gleaming new facilities or property upgrades within the last few years.
Jason Akers, general manager of Team Toyota, said he's confident the payoff will come in improved customer experiences, which in turn could drive sales.
Team Toyota will open its 38,000-square-foot dealership Monday, which features more than twice the size of its Highland vehicle showroom and service area. Akers said the new location at 400 Indianapolis Blvd. also offers more lot space for new and used vehicles.
"We feel like we're getting in it at the right time," Akers said.
The move cost about $8 million, which includes land acquisition and construction costs, Akers said. The dealership has 63 employees, and Akers said the dealership added about 15 people to the employment roll within the last year in preparation for the move.
After buying Team Toyota's Highland property, Volkswagen of Orland Park is expected to open a new dealership at the site after completing renovations. Schepel Buick GMC Cadillac in Merrillville completed renovations at its site last year and Muller Acura opened a new dealership in Merrillville earlier this year.
Gary Richardson, owner of Richardson Suzuki in Highland and president of the Northwest Indiana Auto Trade Association, said Team Toyota's move is a sign of stability within Northwest Indiana's automobile retail market. Within the last three months, Richardson said he's spent about $60,000 on new floors, a new phone system and a new paint job his facility.
"I think that's definitely important to customers to show you ware putting money back in your business," Richardson said.
Richardson said dealership owners have to be careful when making pricey facility upgrades, even if they are recommended by automakers, because they don''t sell any more vehicles.
The National Automobile Dealers Association commissioned a study last year on whether automakers' programs pushing facility upgrades or renovations have a clear impact on sales. In research results released earlier this year, the study recommended original equipment manufacturers better demonstrate the value of investments in facilities, work with dealers to lower costs for upgrades, and create long-term plans so upgrades help the dealership remain competitive long-term.
Despite the concerns, Akers of Team Toyota said the dealership will be able to receive about 465 additional vehicles per year with the facility upgrades. Having more product on hand will be important because he said Toyota is sending a new vehicle and several vehicle redesigns to the market next year.
The dealership is also expected to hold a grand opening event in March.