Monday, April 16, 2007

Auto Mall Offers Prime Location, Profits for Car Dealers

Auto Mall Offers Prime Location, Profits for Car Dealers
By Ines Bebea

Prospective car buyers walk the lot one of the many dealerships on Auto Mall Parkway in Fairfield. (Photo by Zachary Kaufman)

FAIRFIELD - For Bob Starks, owner of the Ford Lincoln Mercury dealership of Fairfield, the idea was simple: an auto mall will attract more customers and more business.

As one of the newest members at the Fairfield Auto Mall, Starks's sales have increased 5-10 percent compared with the same period last year since he moved in December 2006.

"At our old location on Oliver Road, we were already experiencing a decline in sales and customers," Starks said. "At this location, we have visibility and easy access to eastbound and westbound cars traveling on Highway 12 and Interstate 80."

Moving to the new location also gave Starks and his staff the opportunity to consolidate all their operations under one roof. According to Starks, at the old location buildings were spread out over three different parcels, which meant employees and customers had to walk long distances to get or pay for the various services offered.

"With the auto mall, you have a one stop convenience car shopping experience for the customer," he said.

The move meant an expansion of what cars and services his dealership offers. Starks acquired the long time Lincoln and Mercury dealerships from the Barber Group, and dropped the Mazda Subaru brands. He recently also sold some land to Bob Benson, who will soon begin work on his Saturn dealership in the auto mall.

Starks isn't fazed by the close proximity of so many competitors. In fact, he is spearheading a campaign to advertise the auto mall as a unit.

"I'm going to start a committee where we advertise the auto mall to get people here," he said. "We have a number of luxury dealerships who are planning to move here as well. As a unit we will be the biggest concentration of dealerships in Solano County, and that translates into more jobs, customers and profits."

As the population of Solano County continues to grow, car manufactures will be able to close the gap that now exists between production and sales, he added.

"Right now, all car makers are at an over capacity. They produce about 22 million cars per year, but the consumer is only buying 16 million per year," he said.

Growth is a theme the city of Fairfield wants to continue to see in the auto mall. Currently, there are 11 dealerships at the auto mall and plans to add two more. To make access to the auto mall easier as well, the city plans to spend $3.5 million dollars to fix the roadway leading to the auto mall from Home Depot.

"The idea is to make that road be at the same level as the roads in the auto mall in 2008," said Sean Quinn, community development director for Fairfield. "We also sold the old fire station to Simon Buniak, a car dealer, who will be bringing a dealership to the auto mall."

Auto sales surpassed department stores sales in 2002, reaching more than $2.5 million in Fairfield, the city said. Car totaled about $3 million in 2006.

"In terms of activity, it is a great location," added Quinn saod. "Since that site officially became an auto mall in 2000, the mix of car dealerships is really good. The auto mall is well maintained and it has a great street presence."

As one of the oldest dealerships in the auto mall, the Chrysler Jeep Kia has had a front row seat to its expansion. On the eight acres of land the dealership has occupied since 1997, Paul Choonhaurai, the general sales manager, is a firm believer that location and competition are the driving force behind the auto mall.

"Depending on where people exit or enter the freeway, we are either the first or last dealership that they will see," Choonhaurai said. "Either way it benefits us, because the location of a dealership is as important as it is in real estate, the visibility from the freeway and our driveways make us more customer friendly."

While consumers have been concerned about the recent increase in gas prices, the need for a car as a means of transportation or social status will always be there, Choonhaurai added. Consumers may choose to buy economical cars, and sales of sport utility vehicles may decrease, but he's confident the industry can survive changing tastes.

Reach Ines Bebea at 427-6934 or

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