How electric vehicles and digital retail might reshape dealerships


“There is always a natural tension,” she said. “In fact, that is the reason why we have our role. As a neutral third party, we can often speak about each party’s interests and align them so they can move forward in a way that makes business sense yet maintains the integrity of the brand.”

Carfora and her staff of 30 work with automakers on their image programs, from design intent, to architecture, to assessments. Clients include several brands across the United States and Canada, representing more than 2,800 dealerships.

“We have recently completed Porsche, Audi, Jaguar Land Rover and Subaru dealerships,” Carfora said. “We generally work on new build projects with investments ranging from $10 million to $30 million.”

Carfora, 43, joined the Weis Group in 2010 as director of operations, then rose to vice-president. She assumed the CEO role last year after her husband, Monte Weis, joined another company in the auto industry. However, he continues to serve as chairman of the Weis Group.

Carfora spoke with Automotive News Canada on a range of issues regarding dealership design:

ON HOW THE INDUSTRY’S SHIFT TOWARD EVs IS ALTERING DEALERSHIPS

EV adoption is certainly changing the scope of the facility. We now incorporate quarantine rooms; pressurized high-voltage repair rooms; as well as safety in the workshop area when dealing with electricity; and of course, incorporating chargers in various locations both outside and inside the dealership. [Electrification] has a significant impact, as it creates a larger investment for dealers and also affects the flow of traffic in the dealership.

ON HOW THE DESIGN SIDE OF HER BUSINESS WORKS

In some cases, especially with our European clients, they have international master plans on how the dealerships should be designed. In other cases, mostly with our Japanese clients, we create the dealership design for Canada and design each facility schematically. In all cases, we work with the manufacturer to give the dealer enough information and guidance that they can construct or renovate their dealership with their local builder and consultants. Lastly, we also provide full architectural services through a division of Weis Group called Weis LGA Inc.

ON ANNUAL ASSESSMENTS OF DEALERSHIPS TO ENSURE THEY ARE MEETING THE BRAND-IDENTITY STANDARDS OF AUTOMAKERS

Our programs range from facility, process, digital, electric-vehicle readiness. We have a proprietary software platform that allows us to efficiently collect dealership information, capacity and data and provide insights in real time. The aim is to work with the manufacturer and their dealer partners to continuously improve how the brand is represented across the network.

ON THE NOTION THAT DIGITAL RETAILING WILL BE THE END OF DEALERSHIPS

The manufacturers need a network of dealerships across the country to represent them, to help deliver the brand, not only in sales but in service. … You can’t get the immersive customer experience online. You need to be in dealerships, feeling the product and testing it.

ON WHY SOME COMPANIES ARE USING POP-UP OR BOUTIQUE STORES TO SELL VEHICLES

Traditionally, you would have a fully functioning dealership — where sales, service and parts were all under one roof. Now we see a mix of full-function stores, showroom-only, satellite service facilities, experience centres and pop-up retail. The model is looking a little bit different because it’s really expensive to build in urban settings. You want to make sure you have representation in different areas.

ON HOW HER EMPLOYEES HAVE ADJUSTED TO WORKING DURING THE PANDEMIC

We left our office on March 16 [2020], and most of my team have worked remotely since then. … The variability every business leader has had to contend with has been quite a roller-coaster ride. … At the beginning of the year, one client said, “I feel like I’ve been shot out of a cannon and it hasn’t stopped.” My team and I could relate to that.

ON BEING A FEMALE EXECUTIVE

I don’t see myself as a “woman in automotive.” What is unique about that? Nothing. The conversation should really be about the perspectives I bring. It’s diversity of thought. I don’t think that having the same way of thinking that we have always had is a way for us to truly progress. The thinking has to evolve, not necessarily the gender. It’s not about gender. It’s about diversity of perspectives at the table. And, yes, diversity of perspectives comes from diversity in all facets.



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