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Sunday, 10 March 2013 20:26

Fox taps Triangle to build Chicago dealership

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GRAND RAPIDS — As Fox Motors expands into Chicago with a new Ford Lincoln store, the Grand Rapids-based dealership group is bringing along another West Michigan company to help build its first out-of-state dealership.

Fox Motors, which ranks among the top 100 “mega dealers” in the country, selected Grand Rapids-based Triangle Associates Inc. to serve as construction manager on the estimated $25 million build-out of its new store on Chicago's near north side.

Fox opened the dealership in a temporary location on Feb. 1 and plans to be in the new facility by summer 2015. The permanent location, 2501 Elston NW, will take up about four acres of seven-acre parcel that sits on the north branch of the Chicago River, said Diane Maher, CFO and COO of Fox Motors.

The new 100,000-square-foot, three-story building will be able to hold more than 165 vehicles and includes double-level parking garage, some rooftop parking and a partial green roof, said Mitchell G. Watt, president and chief business development officer for Triangle. The facility also includes 40 mechanics lifts plus 14 other service stalls for automotive detailing, quick lube oil changes, photography and large vehicle service.

“It's really a flagship for Ford,” Watt said.

Elizabeth Weigandt, manager of dealer communications for Ford, said the design is an adaptation of the automaker's new Trustmark design program for urban dealership locations.

Automotive News reported in February that Ford launched the Trustmark design program to encourage dealerships to adopt a new corporate design language. Ford is offering dealerships up to $750,000 in a dollar-for-dollar match if they upgrade their facilities under the new Trustmark design program.

Weigandt declined to comment on the specifics of its incentives for the new Fox dealership.

Fox Motors and Triangle worked with global architecture firm Gensler's Chicago office and Ford Land, the automaker's real estate and development arm, on the design of the project, Maher said.

“Because this was an urban dealership, it could not be a cookie-cutter (facility),” Maher said. “In the urban setting, we had to get outside of the box a little bit. … Ford was very involved.”

Unlike in suburban areas, it's “cheaper to go up than out” in the city, Maher said. “The trick will be to come up with the necessary parking we need.”

The company plans to use a combination off-site storage and roof parking to make up for the lack of onsite space, Maher said, adding the company is working diligently to perfect its logistics. Fox Motors' other dealerships mostly operate in suburban and rural areas that have space for parking cars and staging vehicles for the dealership, she added.

“We're used to lots of land,” she said. “The tricky things for us to handle will be the logistics and having vehicles that are not easy to get to.”

The limited space wasn't the only challenge for the project. The permit approval process could take longer than six months, plus the site has an existing light industrial building, Maher said. The company must first work to move out a couple of current tenants before getting started on demolition. Construction should start in spring 2014 and continue through summer 2015.

Both Fox and Triangle have been working together on dealership projects, mainly renovations, over the last five years, Watt said.

“It was a natural opportunity for us to pursue the work with them in Chicago. That's part of our overall corporate strategy for growth, to grow into new geographies with our clients,” Watt said. “We're going where our customers are going.”

Triangle is in the process of forming a partnership with Northfield, Ill.-based Valenti Builders Inc. for the project.

“It was best for the project to partner with a large local firm that had worked in the city, and on a number of automotive projects,” Watt said.



Once the new building is completed, Fox will close its temporary site and move the operation and staff to the new dealership, Maher said. The company used the temporary site to “get our band and staff established” in the marketplace, as well as to build trust within the organization and new hires, she said.

While the temporary location just opened in February, Maher said business has gone better than expected, particularly in the service side, which filled a regional gap in Ford-branded service stations.

“Sales have been a little slower as we still work the bugs out,” she said.

The company has held off on making a big splash in the community as it works on its processes and in developing its services, she said.

While car dealers are an intensely territorial group, Maher said a neighboring dealership offered the company a warm welcome, although she acknowledged that Fox has not had much interaction with other Ford dealerships in the area just yet.

Building those relationships will be key because dealers often trade vehicles with other nearby dealers to get vehicles that meet customers' requirements, she said.

“So far, so good,” Maher said. “We haven't heard of any resistance.”

Last year was a busy one for Fox Motors, which added a new nameplate with a Fiat store in Traverse City that opened in December and renovated a handful of its other properties.

Maher said the company will likely hold off on additional new stores or acquisitions in the coming year as it shifts its attention to successfully launching in the Chicago area.

“You can never predict when the good opportunities will come to you,” Maher said, “but this year, really, our focus will be on Chicago and operating and building a better mousetrap there.”

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