Not only size matters
Our new office lies in my city’s industrial heartland. Next door makes false limbs. Two doors up they sell oil, and at the end, hand tools are made, or at least stored. The environs are full of engineering workshops of vastly different sizes. The circulating aroma is a heady blend of refuse (the incinerator is close by) and something akin to leaving the iron on too long. But there are glimpses of beauty. The River Don, in all its khaki splendour now attracts fish for both human and feathered creatures to enjoy; witnessing the electric blue flash of a Kingfisher gladdens this author’s heart.
Fear not dear reader, DTW is not about to open an environmental section. Returning our gaze to the automobile, the environs also house several car plots which can cater from price brackets between true banger to the uppermost echelons. And the largest, by far, is but a moment’s walk away.
Warehouse building is definitely an on-trend pastime in the United Kingdom. Levelled plots of land, sprouting metallic latticework, spring up almost overnight. Clad in metallic sheeting, the few clues to what lies within may come from the associated traffic or a small sign placed meters high. This particular building, simply cannot be misconstrued for anything else. The glass, neon signs and vehicles within see to that.
Firstly, a potted history. Motor racer and car dealer, Frank Sytner dabbled in Formula Ford before moving into Touring Cars, winning the 1988 BTCC title behind the wheel of a BMW M3. After hanging up his racing gloves, his concentration focused on expanding his BMW franchise, establishing premier looking dealerships in Nottingham before expanding to Sheffield. Having more financial success saw his empire grow enough to encourage American businessman, Roger Penske to invest, leading to further expansion. Marques sold through the Sytner name grew – as did the premises.
Built in 2017, Sytner Sheffield deals with products made in Bavaria and Oxford. In as much an impressive edifice, your correspondent had not until very recently journeyed past the place. Now neighbours, intrigue spurred me on.
Monday lunchtime, the large car park had many spaces free. The automatic revolving door practically welcomed me inward to which these eyes must have widened significantly. Roundels and grilles as far as the eye could see. Everyone, from receptionist to the many suit wearing chaps appeared friendly and keen to acknowledge my presence without actually enquiring as to the reason of my presence upon their hallowed turf. I felt comfortable – that ease allowing me to wander at will, un-disturbed.
This is the UK’s largest BMW dealership. Arranged over three floors, 140 BMWs and 110 MINIs (with room for plenty more) of both new and used variety can be viewed in air-conditioned splendour, the topmost reserved for storage for many more vehicles and public inaccessible. Doubtless some of our American readers will know of larger premises but for this nation of shopkeepers, the place is huge. Five and half acres or over 200,000 square feet of car selling space. Four escalators whisk humans to the different sales areas, whereas the automobiles use an (unseen) lift. Unlike a puzzle, should a customer desire a car from a centre row for example, only one other vehicle has to be moved. Detailed planning and design, sadly not seen in motion.
Aligned Beemers in perfect rows, I could not detect a single blemish nor fingerprint. Tyres gleamed black, windows streak free. Catalogues are now electronic but by asking a member of staff one could have material printed off and posted. The eldest vehicle viewed, an eleven year old 1 Series diesel automatic convertible – £9,000 to you sir. Multiply by ten both price and available X varieties sitting nearby. Up a floor saw the saloon brigade on parade with, at the opposite side, the M Studio. Apparently one of only three in the world, this corner is devoted to that rarefied world of extrovert colours, trims, enhanced engines and loftier price tags. Acid greens and yellows are the norm here, opposed to the everyday greyscale across the way.
Returning downstairs, my eyes were drawn to the large glass area advertised as the Workshop Viewing Area. Workshop? 42 untarnished bays stretched out before me, mechanics, sorry, technicians beavering away with calm precision. One wonders if some form of robotised minion scurries out lest a drop of evil fluid touch the floor. There appeared to be no tyre marks, either. Is this some kind of magic?
Regarding fluids for consumption, the Isetta bar a few steps away will supply customers with beverages and light snacks. And as you enjoy your mocha, cast a gaze over the merchandise, for not only those wearing the Munich propeller but also Oxford’s non-diminutive export. I cannot profess to being an undercover dealership detective but I’ve never seen such a professional yet welcoming set up, with a bar for goodness sake – no suggestion of alcohol, mind you.
This building leans heavily towards the whole experience of purchasing a car. Is that such a bad thing? Spending large amounts of folding either monthly or overall on a coveted subject should be a pleasurable experience and not a transaction akin to the weekly shop. One doesn’t want to be pandered to, or experience the dreaded condescension. A healthy respect for one’s needs and wants and preferably at a price range that suits.
Regardless of the emotions invoked within this beautifully lit playground, the overall distraction of the extensive grilles and bloated bodies was too much for me to bear, so I beat a hasty retreat. In no way disparaging this flagship, they only vend what is produced; this is purely personal taste; they’re not for me. Should I find myself in the market for a BMW I wouldn’t hesitate at being made to feel special in these plush looking handover rooms, sipping an Earl Grey, flushed with pride on receiving the keys (or extension lead) and eagerly anticipating the first drive.
My market though, is closed to all comers.
Data Sources: Shanks’ Pony.
14 thoughts on “Bloody Massive Warehouse”
The format is known here as ‘Big Box Retail’. When applied to retailing smaller goods than cars, it is a killer of main street retail and the killer of small town centres.
My mom lives in a town with 7,500 inhabitants and the city center is home to the second largest women’s fashion store of the country. In this case the shop is in several buildings, both old and new, that are connected to each other. The atmosphere of the street remains intact.
The good thing is that this shop attracts so many customers from far away that other speciality stores in the same area can thrive too. The downside is, that it all depends on the success of the fashion store. Should they go belly up, the rest will too. There just aren’t enough locals to keep them in business.
This trend has been going on for a while now. The dealerships are fewer in number and grow larger. They moved to locations on industrial estates where they can easily be viewed from the main highways. Furthermore the fewer locations are owned by fewer companies. It’s not just BMW, you see it with Mercedes, Audi, Porsche…
I have owned BMW’s for 25 consecutive years and before that there have been BMW’s in my family for ages. The level of service has always been high. The atmosphere has changed and the tea or coffee is now on a level one associates with specialized cafes. Personally I preferred the situation was more of a niche product, fondly remembering the testdrive my dad had in an E21. Still, it’s great when your car is in for service. You can even make a reservation for a private office if you desire. And the cost of maintaining a BMW isn’t bad. As long as nothing breaks, that is.
Manufacturers consider these buildings a part of their corporate identity and make then a highly regulated affair. Size and design inside and out are managed down to the last millimetre and look amazingly similar across brands.
Audi started this development in the late Nineties and others followed. A typical standardised Audi
Zentrum is available in sizes S, M, L which is a problem for our local Audi dealer who would need one in XXL (selling 6.000 cars per year) and had to build three separate outlets instead of one single large.
A typical Audi Zentrum looks nearly the same as the BMW outlet in these pictures, including the coffe bar except that the parts that are BMW blue here are Audi anthracite there. It’s all oriented towards the corporate fleet leasing customer who wants to see the cars but doesn’t buy one. To please these customers the cars on display are stuffed to the gunwales with electronic nonsense.
In Frankfurt is a road with such dealerships sitting close together for maybe a kilometre. Without the logos on the outside it would be very difficult to tell which brand they sell.
I only have to drive to the end of our village to see this one
and their second building
Ah – he’s come a long way has our Franklin….. Good morning Andrew, you’ve triggered a Sunday morning trip down memory lane. Back in 1991 I was in need of a cheap van and picked up a C-reg diesel Astravan from a used car lot just outside Ripley. A sound buy which gave excellent service for a couple of years but with one strange quirk – wheels which were one inch larger in diameter than an Astra’s should be, as I discovered when replacing a pair of tyres. It also had non-standard but strangely familiar wheel embellishers; careful examination revealed that the BMW badges had been carefully removed from the centres…… The first owners turned out to have been Sytner’s Nottingham dealership.
Amazing – I wasn’t aware of that dealership – it’s very impressive.
Part of me thinks that these places are wonderful, while another thinks that they’re a bit much. Good luck with to them, though.
I quietly admire BMW, albeit from a distance. If they improve their styling, I could become a fan. I’ve previously hankered over a 2 Series Active Tourer – the interior struck me as one of the nicest going. Then there’s the i3, of course.
I’ve been returning my car to showroom condition, today. The interior resembled a beach with the outside more grey/brown due to the recent poor weather conditions. I’m a happy bunny with a clean car but such fastidiousness takes its toll on the vertebrae….i digress.
I understand and appreciate your comments regarding these places. Like so many retail outlets, perceived harmony and beauty seem to be the corporate norm. But this place didn’t feel vacuous or false, as some other dealerships did and some still do. Friendly, open, a rhythm to proceedings. Since writing the piece, I returned and saw employees bringing in a couple of i3’s which still fascinate me, one in a delightful shade of gold over black.
There’s a secret ramp behind a shutter door for one side, the lift being on the other. This being a successful place, stock shifts pretty quickly. I also wanted to sample the bar Isetta but lost my nerve for some reason.I’m not sure I’ll ever be a BMW customer. Working so close to this warehouse , one does see a lot of test drives taking place. Or sometimes hear them driving by, a glimpse of M something or other if i get to a window in time.
Sytner also have a Land Rover shop a mile away in the opposite direction, looking very similar to what Dave AR has posted. There’s plenty of seriously expensive metal in my vicinity. Have you seen where LR customers spend an average of £70,000 per vehicle? Staggering amounts of money!
The pictures I posted show our country’s HQs of JLR as well as AM in Kronberg.
Kronberg is the city with the largest number of millionaires in our country.
Real estate agents are offering cheap (their words) houses at six million Euros.
This trend of building of shiny glass temples to worship the automobile is rather sad. In the next village I was able to get my old Lexus serviced by the local Toyota dealer. He inherited the business from his father and did a good job i.e. only what was necessary and the rest we discussed.
Just before Christmas he sent a letter round to his customers informing them that due to increased demands from Toyota, he’s not able to comply with their standards and is giving up the franchise as it would cost too much.
And just after Christmas a similar story with the local Mazda dealer. These guys have served loyal customers in their surrounding villages, who will now have to trek much further to have their car serviced at the main dealers at twice the hourly rate.
In 2010 we experienced the other side of the coin in Miami. On our way back to the airport we had a few hours to spare and, spotting the huge Toyota/ Lexus dealer, we thought we could pop in for a quick look. Around Miami we’d seen hundreds of RX models in all sorts of fancy colours never seen in boring Switzerland, so I hoped to get a colour brochure for fun. We rolled up in our manky hired Camry and were greeted warmly by a salesman. We explained that we weren’t going to buy a car and were just after a colour catalogue. Not available said he, but if we would follow him then he could show us everything in person. Up to the fourth floor where we hopped in a buggy and went round the car park where all the possible colour and trim variations were available to buy. Slightly gobsmacked already, he proceeded to lead us round the viewing area where you could sit on a sofa supping fresh ground coffee watching your car being serviced. A pool & games room, hairdressers and nail salon were also on the premises… either free or discounted for customers. Car valeting was naturally free anytime.
The icing on the cake though was the parts department. We expressed interest in buying a rubber bumper protector for under the tailgate, having seen many RX so equipped. The parts boutique was a finely furnished area served by a couple of drop-dead gorgeous ladies, probably more used to selling Lexus branded golf outfits rather than actual parts. After a short wait and a nice chat our part arrived and we were on our way, having seen the future of the “customer experience”.
Keep up the good work DTW!
I remember an article in CAR in the mid-Nineties quoting a survey stating that the second most unpleasant experience after a visit to the dentist was going to a car dealership.
Surely this shouldn’t be the case when somebody wants to do the second largest investment of his life.
Dear Johan de Nysschen et. al: I want you to travel to where I am with a loaner, and return my vehicle once the job is properly completed. If you do this well then perhaps someday I may, of my own volition visit your amusement park.
Interesting article! I used to be less self-conscious when visiting car dealerships just to look, but now I keep it to a minimum. What I’ve always done and still do is to state clearly that I’m just looking, so not only the sales person saves time, but they also tend to leave me alone so I can check out the cars at my leisure.
My most memorable dealership visit was a few years ago, maybe in 2009, when I went to London to visit my brother who was living there at the time. We were calmly walking on Kensington High Street when I spotted a Bristol Cars sign on a smallish corner store. We crossed the street and went into the slightly rickety-looking store, excited that I was seeing a Bristol in the metal for the very first time. The store inside had the look, feel, and smell of an old corner store from the 60s, with simple wood cabinets and general furniture, all of similar style, but not exactly matching and with the sort of patina you’d find in your grandparents’ home. Not too long after, a nice, unassuming chap in his 60s or perhaps even 70s came out of a wooden door in the back, maybe the door that communicates the showroom with the shop floor, and greeted us with a smile.
We chatted for a little while, me commenting about seeing a Bristol car in the metal for the first time (and only time, come to think about it…), etc. There were I think two or three cars in the cramped showroom and after glancing over them for a while (Bristols aren’t particularly stylish, so you don’t tend to ogle at them for long), my self-consciousness kicked in and I decided to leave and not waste any more of this kind man’s time. I did muster the courage to ask for some kind of brochure as a souvenir (I could never be mistaken for a potential Bristol owner!) and the chap very kindly rummaged behind those old wooden cabinets for a couple of seconds and came out with a small, vintage looking brochure of sorts. It turned out to be a surviving original reprint from a 1970s road test, complete with grainy photos and tons of text, common in road tests of that era.
It was only a few days later, back home that I checked that Kensington High Street dealership on the internet, and found out that it was the only Bristol dealership in the world, ever, and owned by Bristol Cars themselves! I felt privileged to have visited it.
And that pleasant old man was undoubtedly Tony Crook, former racing car driver and owner of Bristol Cars. He sadly passed away in 2014 and Bristol didn’t last much longer.
Thank you for that account Cesar. As Crook understandably did not engage with the mainstream press, their depictions of him tended to be misleading. Here’s a rare interview with the affable gentleman.