Over the next two months, Lakeland will get three new car dealerships, two of which are new brands for Polk County.
The new dealerships will capitalize on a âhotâ market for the automotive industry. While the pandemic has been devastating for many industries, especially restaurants, bars and retail, dealerships flourished once they were allowed to reopen, dealers said.
âI think by the time the pandemic started, like most retailers, things were tough,â said CarMax regional vice president Joe Holder. “But it’s been absolutely on fire for probably six or seven months now.”
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At the end of June, Lakeland will welcome three new auto dealerships that have each been in the works for a few years. Each site was put under construction in 2020, as the pandemic raged, vaccines were not yet widely available, and the future was much less clear. But dealership workers said the pandemic was a global boost – not a hindrance – for the industry, paving the way for these new car-buying sites.
Where can I hang a new car?
The first for Lakeland is a new CarMax dealership at 3223 US Highway 98 North. Just off I-4, Polk County’s first CarMax is scheduled to open on Wednesday, May 26.
Holder said the Lakeland location was the 22nd store in Florida and one of three stores in Florida scheduled to open this fiscal year. He said Lakeland was chosen to host the new site because there is a “huge customer base” in Florida but an “underserved market” for CarMax between Tampa and Orlando. In addition, CarMax is enthusiastic about the chosen site because of its proximity to two main highways.
The new CarMax has been under construction since November 2020, Holder said. When it opens, it will have an area of ââ7,590 square feet and will be modeled on CarMax’s most recently opened locations. It is the smallest of the three dealerships heading to Lakeland.
Holder said that while more than 90% of CarMax purchases begin online with online vehicle or finance reviews, customers are still interested in visiting physical sites.
âThey always want to come to the store,â Holder said. “They want to see several cars in person, they want to take a test drive, they want to talk to someone.”
Lakeland will be CarMax’s second store opening since the start of COVID-19 last spring. Holder said that although there has been a strategic pause on openings due to the pandemic, the company is now welcoming new stores. Ten are set to open this exercise, two of which are also in Florida.
âNow is the right time to jump in and grow as a growing business,â Holder said.
The Lakeland CarMax will have 20 employees.
After CarMax, Lakeland will welcome a new Jaguar Land Rover dealership owned by Elder Automative Group at 2550 Interstate Drive. Robert Elder, one of the owners, said the dealership is scheduled to open on June 10.
The location was favored by Jaguar Land Rover, Elder said, because Lakeland is a âgrowing communityâ near Tampa. The site has been under construction for three years and under construction for nine months. It should be 29,000 square feet.
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Elder said the facility is a “design marvel” and will include several modern amenities, including a separate car delivery room where customers can take a virtual tour of their new vehicle and explore all the new features they have. now access.
The new Jaguar Land Rover will offer both new and used cars. Elder expects to have around 150-200 cars on the lot when full, although the entire auto industry is experiencing a shortage of inventory due to both manufacturing delays and increased demand. vehicles.
Elder Automative Group has two other dealerships in Hillsborough County and four dealerships in Michigan. Elder said Florida was the easiest state to manage during the pandemic because it was much more “open” for business throughout.
âFlorida didn’t have these strict rules,â Elder said. “Sales were much, much higher in Florida.”
Elder said he is currently hiring for the new dealership, which will have 60 employees when fully staffed.
Finally, the Lakeland Mazda dealership, currently located at 1250 W. Memorial Blvd., is moving to South Lakeland.
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Potential and current Mazda customers will be able to start visiting 4317 US Highway 98 S towards the end of June, said general manager Sophia Justiz. Once the new location opens, the old one will close, she added.
The new Mazda site has been in the works for three years, when the current one was purchased by Holler-Classic Automotive Group in July 2018. Justiz said Mazda has “passed this zone, passed this lot”, and the new dealership will be more. easy for guests in Winter Haven, Sebring, Bartow and Lakeland as it is more central.
âWe’re the only Mazda dealership in Polk County, so the next closest one is really Orlando or Brandon,â Justiz said. “We have a large market to serve.”
The new store will be 24,000 square feet in size and feature a fully air-conditioned workshop, which Justiz says is a huge deal for technicians working in the brutal Florida heat. The “state-of-the-art” facility will also have outdoor seating for customers, a feature unique to car dealerships, but Justiz said it was added as a precaution against COVID-19.
The dealership’s modern design and feel reflects Mazda’s desire to compete in a âhigher end market,â Justiz said. She cited Infinity, Acura and Lexus as new brand competitors for Mazda vehicles.
âThe cars are top of the line already,â Justiz said. “Now we need top-notch stores and services.”
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One of those premium services is the ability to take one of the vehicles out of the âfleetâ for the day while your car is in the store, Justiz said.
At Mazda’s current location, there are 180 new cars and about 40 used cars. At the new dealership, Justiz expects to have around 220 new cars and 60 used cars. To manage the larger space and inventory, she plans to hire between 10 and 15 new employees.
The auto market experiences a pandemic peak
Despite COVID-19, the auto market hasn’t had a bad year.
âCarMax has been in operation since 1993, so almost 28 years, and we have had our best March ever across the country,â Holder said.
Of course, there were problems. A nationwide shortage of chips for car computers has led to a slowdown in inventory, an issue dealers still face. And towards the start of the pandemic, when it all came to a halt, it wasn’t pretty.
âIt started very scary in March, in April of last year,â Elder said. “And then he came back really strong and the market was fantastic.”
Like other businesses, dealerships have had to make major adjustments, such as requiring employees and customers to hide and install plexiglass barriers and six-foot social distancing markers. But the expansion was still flourishing.
When the new Jaguar Land Rover went into construction nine months ago, the outlook for the pandemic was much less optimistic. But Elder and the other dealership owners pushed ahead.
âWe believe in Polk County and we believe in Lakeland. And we just thought that while the pandemic was a huge, huge shutdown for our business, we thought it would only be a hiccup,â Elder said. “We knew America and Polk County and Lakeland would keep moving forward. We really didn’t think of it all as a crisis.”
Auto industry players had a few reasons for the resumption of business, including the influx of money from stimulus checks and tax returns, with people ready to return to the world after being turned away from their homes and seeing fewer travel restrictions with cars; and the fact that dealerships were open for business while many other brick and mortar locations were closed.
âWe did pretty well. I mean the service, the service slowed down a bit because people weren’t driving as much,â Justiz said. âBut sales went well throughout the entire Covid pandemic, to be honest. I think a lot of people with so many stores closed and dealers still open, it was one of the few things you could still buy. . ”
Maya Lora is best reached with advice or questions at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @mayaklora.