OCONTO - The owners of Koehne Chevrolet Buick GMC in Oconto and Marinette are building on their success.
Brothers Todd and Chad Koehne on Saturday celebrated several months of remodeling with a grand opening, where visitors experienced a sleek and spacious new showroom, with a 10-foot ceiling and offices now set in the back.
There's also a pleasant customer service and waiting areas, new restrooms, and an expanded service center. Interior office space for administration and financial employees was also remodeled.
While the overall size of the building didn't change, the dealership is now a cleaner, more inviting space for both staff and customers, they said.
"The end result is what you see, and we're very proud of what we've done," Chad said.
Ground was broken for the project last October, which provided a challenge in maintaining business operations over the long winter.
The sales and service consultants were jammed together into the service drive, though sales staff did have a mobile trailer outside so they could see and greet arriving customers, Todd said.
Customers coming for repairs can now just drive into the service area - out of any inclement weather and walk over to the glass enclosed service center to check in with a consultant.
"It's all about how customer friendly and how easy we can make it for our guests," Todd said.
The expanded service center - which added four hoists for a total of 10 - will also shorten wait times while increasing their capacity to meet the growing demand for repair and maintenance work.
"This allows customers to get in and out of the shop faster," Chad said.
The room for the four new hoists came from merging the body shop operations at Oconto into the Marinette location. Customers needing body work won't notice any difference.
"We will still do estimates and give you a loaner car," Todd said.
"It's still seamless to the customer," added Chad.
The service side of the business has been an emphasis for the Koehnes. They said that even though warrant work has declined - as cars are being built better and lasting longer -- customers are also taking better care of them, and needing more oil changes, tires, brakes and other routine.
"We want to service the customer along the way so they come back and purchase from us," Chad said.
That's one reason why after they purchased the business from Chris Augustine in January 2007, they soon expanded the service area from three hoists to six as part of an addition and for several years offered a $9.95 oil change.
Just because Oconto was in a smaller city in a rural area didn't mean services had to cost more, they said, noting they continue to offer a guaranteed lowest price on tires. Staff regularly checks prices so that "we make sure we're right there or under," Chad said.
The same thing goes for vehicles, as Koehne promotes a policy of the first price being their absolute best price. Managers shop and check prices so their consistent or lower.
"When Chad and I came into the business, we wanted to give a value for people in these communities," Todd said.
And don't worry, prices aren't rising because of the $750,000 renovation, they said.
"We'll continue to take care of customers and treat your friendly so you have a good experience," Chad said.
Even though the Koehnes are wrapping up one construction project, another will begin this month. An entire new facility in Marinette will be constructed on Highway 41, next to the Tradewinds restaurant on the south side of the city.
Both projects were mandated by General Motors, which wants its dealerships to be similar in appearance. GM provides basic plans for exterior and interiors, which are turned over to the dealer's builder for refinements, primarily to interior spaces. Bayland Buildings is the contractor for both projects.
The Koehnes said it made more sense financially to build new rather than remodel a property they only lease. At 34,000 square feet, the new dealership will nearly twice the size of the current location near Wal-mart. The brothers purchased that business in 2009, a year after they opened a used car dealership on Main Street in Green Bay.
In Marinette, they plan to add another 20 to 30 employees when the project is completed by the end of the year.
Oconto has already added five people, including a sales manager and business manager and service advsiers.
"With three stores, we had to put managers in place," Todd said
They are looking to hire another three to five mechanics and service advisers, bringing the number of employees to about 30.
For the brothers, automobiles has long been the family business. Their father, Fred Koehne, was the youngest Rambler dealer in the country in Oconto Falls. He later went to Green Bay and worked at Van Boxtel Ford, eventually becoming a co-owner. When that dealership was sold to Broadway Automotive in 2005, he retired but continues to assist his sons as a consultant, Chad said.
Their grandfather, Ardeal Thomson held the Chevrolet franchise in Oconto Falls decades ago, which they acquired several years ago. The Koehnes purchased it from GM, which had terminated its dealer there during the company's massive restructuring.
"It's come back full circle," Chad said.
It was also good timing, being around the same time GM dropped Pontiac from its line-up, which was Koehne's top seller in Oconto.
"It was fortunate for us to be able to purchase it," Chad said.