Building a Brand. Branding a Building.
The First Automotive Dealerships
The emergence of the branded automotive dealership is still a fairly recent development. The first automotive dealerships grew from bicycle sales and repair shops and blacksmith shops. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the purpose-built dealership as we know it, including a formal showroom, a well-stocked parts department, and a quality service center came to be.
The early designs were simple commercial buildings in somewhat urban, in-town environs. A large door facing the street was used as a vehicle entrance into the rear service area. Space was allotted in the front for offices and for the display of one or more new vehicles.
Development of the Visual Front and Facility Branding
The strong demand for cars after World War II ultimately stimulated the need for new purpose-built dealership buildings. Adapting an existing building for the sale of new cars was not good enough anymore. By the late 1940s, the manufacturers would be providing dealers with comprehensive architectural planning guides for automobile dealer properties and facilities.
The new dealership designs of the late 1940s were intended to be merchandise and service-oriented and to showcase new cars through a well-organized store front. Dealership design trends in the late 1940s opened the interior to the street. Every attempt was made to make the glass that separated the inside from the outside as inconspicuous as possible. This architectural concept is known as the “visual front”.
In the 1950s, dealerships were designed so that new car showrooms could be seen from the outside by the largest volume of vehicle traffic. Interiors and exteriors were planned together to be effective. Lighting, location and traffic patterns became important considerations.
Throughout the next few decades, U.S. car dealers began moving facilities to large multi-square acres of land devoted only to car dealerships. No longer were facilities located along America’s Main Street competing with department stores and furniture stores for the attention of shoppers. Brand loyalty became less important to the average consumer compared to the convenience of comparing various models and making their buying decision quickly.
Due to this shift in customer behavior, along with the increased number of products competing in the automotive market, it became more important than ever for dealers to distinguish themselves from their neighbors. Architects used functional requirements such as the additional height needed for the service department as design features to attract attention. Other design elements from the world of advertising such as contrast, texture and pattern, movement, color and brightness were maximized to draw your eye to the building.
The New Buying Experience
All conventions for how to sell automobiles were rethought in the 1980s, when General Motors introduced a new way to sell cars. Their new Saturn was sold at dealerships with no haggling over the price of the car. This sales technique coupled with their company-wide focus on customer service established a new trend in car sales and delivery, manufacturing and facility design. In addition to developing a revolutionary buying experience, Saturn surpassed others in the industry in their use of consistent building designs and architecture, uniform storefront brand signs and common dealership furniture. This consistency in environment was a way to reassure buyers and further convey trust and familiarity to win customers.
Understanding History to Design for the Future
Dealership architecture is continuing to evolve into an integral component of automakers’ brand identity and brand experience. The latest retail programs have turned dealerships into destinations with everything from a Starbucks coffee shop to racing museums, and red-carpet services that elevate the customer experience to that of high-end retail. Praxis3’s knowledge of the history of dealership architecture and our experience implementing prototype requirements distinguishes us from other commercial architecture firms. Our specialized knowledge helps us to balance the functional needs of the automotive dealer with the branding requirements of the manufacturer to maximize facility design.
Praxis3 has been at the forefront of dealership design. Our creative design solutions having incorporated the latest technology, indoor amenity space, and open floor plans. We are always looking for new ways to make our customers stand out.