Car showrooms gets bigger, better with improved sales

dbryant@thesunnews.comDecember 17, 2012 

Car buyers will soon browse more lavish showrooms and have more options along the Grand Strand, with several dealers renovating their lots and service areas, some moving into larger spaces and a couple of new names opening their first dealerships in the area.

The recovering economy, which has enticed some car owners who had put off buying a new ride to take the plunge, and programs by manufacturers urging upgrades at their dealerships have prompted the flurry of activity at car lots throughout Horry County, officials said.

Some area dealers said business has been growing – this year has been better than last for many of them – and it’s time to refresh their lots, some of which haven’t seen substantial renovations in years.

“We felt the timing was right for us,” said Lee Forrest, general manager and part owner of Jud Kuhn Chevrolet in Little River. “Our facility really needed it. It was time for us to upgrade. It is going to be much, much more inviting.”

The activity at area car dealers comes as the industry nationally is growing. November was the best month for car dealers nationally in nearly five years, with sales rising 15 percent from a year ago to 1.1 million, the fastest pace since January 2008, The Associated Press reported.

Americans are more confident about the economy, home values nationally are rising and hiring is up, which have contributed to the jump in sales, experts said. And in November, sales picked up as drivers replaced vehicles damaged by Hurricane Sandy or who were delayed buying their vehicle when the storm hit in late October.

Grand Strand car dealers said business has been good for them, too, thanks to a need for drivers to replace aging vehicles, an improving economy, new models and special programs aiming to lure buyers.

“Business has been pretty good,” said Pat Fire, general manager of Hyatt Buick GMC in Myrtle Beach, which was one of the fastest growing Buick dealerships last year in South Carolina and recently finished a renovation. “We’ve had three consecutive years of steady, steady growth.”

A good portion of the renovations along the Grand Strand is at GM dealerships, part of the most substantial dealer renovation project in GM history. About 88 percent of GM dealers nationwide either already have done or will be starting soon on the recommended work, among them several along the Grand Strand including Hyatt, Bell and Bell Buick GMC Trucks in Little River, Jud Kuhn and Hadwin-White in Conway.

“They just want to make sure the environment is supporting the lines, models they are introducing,” said Jordan Hadwin, general manager of Hadwin-White, which is amid the renovation.

Some GM dealers are rolling in a more substantial overhaul of their lots into the GM-urged upgrades. Hadwin-White off U.S. 501 in Conway, which has been in business for 25 years, is expanding the showroom, building a new service lounge and service write-up area, among other improvements. The work started at the end of September and is expected to be complete by early spring, Hadwin said.

“It really is going to be a pretty significant overhaul,” she said. “We decided to go all the way in. This is by far one of the most extensive renovations we’ve done.”

Hyatt finished its upgrades, including a new facade and updated showroom, in October, with plans to redo the concrete parking lot starting in February, Fire said.

“Customers like it,” he said. “It’s more updated, more atheistically appealing ... It’s a brand image.”

The renovations aren’t limited to GM dealers.

Sparks Toyota, which has been in business for 30 years in the Myrtle Beach area, had planned to renovate a few years ago, but put the project on hold as the economy struggled. Sparks is now ready to move forward on the nearly yearlong project, with construction set to start next month and wrap up by the end of 2013. The showroom will double in size, and the service center will expand, among other upgrades.

“It’s a full facility renovation,” said Michelle Bessett, the dealership’s relationship manager. “It was put on hold because of the economy. ... Things are starting to turn around for us.”

In addition to renovations, dealers such as Myrtle Beach Kia moved into a larger space off U.S. 501 in October and Car City, which opened off U.S. 501 two years ago and caters to buyers who can’t get traditional financing, is building a new 5,000-square-foot dealership off U.S. 501 across from Wal-Mart.

The market also has lured a new dealer, Drive Time, which also specializes in selling used cars to drivers with no credit or bad credit and has nearly 100 locations across the country. It opened Dec. 7 off U.S. 501 in Conway.

“It’s another place to take our brand,” said Drive Time’s Karl Brunner, who works at the Conway dealership. “We are just growing the business.”

Car City, which has locations in Little River and the N.C. cities of Calabash, Whiteville and Lumberton, opened a small, 30-vehicle lot off U.S. 501 two years ago to test the market, said Steve Small, general manger of the Conway lot. In the beginning, Car City sold about eight cars a month, now it averages 20 to 25 a month, Small said.

The new, much larger location off U.S. 501 will have full service department, tow company and rental car company. It is on track to open in March or April.

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at dbryant@thesunnews.com or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.

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