The carpet in the old Saccucci Honda dealership on West Main Road in Middletown gave the space a lived-in ambiance that dated back to the days when it was OK to smoke in the showroom. Today’s brand-conscious international car manufacturers, however, have little use for hominess or mid-20th century nostalgia.
So when the Saccucci family sold the Lincoln Mercury portion of the dealership in 2008 and became solely affiliated with Honda, they knew it wouldn’t be long before they had to change the dealership’s look. “They want the brand to be represented in a uniform way,” co-owner Carol Saccucci said about Honda. “We had not done anything since 1968, and you are strongly encouraged to upgrade. We got the point.”
So Saccucci Honda embarked on a $3 million renovation project to transform its traditional family dealership into the latest version of Honda’s standardized showroom designs, Generation 3.
It’s the kind of transformation that’s happening on auto-miles across Rhode Island and the country as manufacturers exert increasing leverage on dealership owners to upgrade their facilities while adopting a standardized and branded design.
For some, trading in a sometimes-cramped and threadbare, old building for the cutting edge in retail and service department design can’t come soon enough. Others are less than thrilled to spend millions of dollars replacing their trusted home with one that will be replicated on commercial strips from coast to coast.
“A lot depends on their circumstances,” said Jack Perkins, executive vice president of the Rhode Island Automobile Dealers Association, about the push to renovate. “Dealers are independent businesspeople. They have an agreement with the manufacturer to sell their products, and the manufacturers have requirements. One of them is to have an adequate facility. Of course, there are a lot of ways to define ‘adequate’ facility.”
How dealers feel about being prodded to build a new dealership, which usually includes a new service center and offices as well as a showroom, often depends on factors such as their current cash position and when the last time was they put money into the building, as well as their design sense.
“If someone has a facility that is older and out of date, then there is probably some recognition that [they] need to do something,” Perkins said. “But if someone has a newer facility, then they may be reluctant to do a complete renovation when one was just done.”