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Driving to the Finish Line

More Groundbreaking Events for the Balise Family of Dealerships
Driving to the Finish Line

Jeb Balise says the massive new Honda dealership borrows heavily from the new Toyota dealership a few miles down Riverdale Street.

There was still some work to be done at the new Honda dealership on Riverdale Street in West Springfield — some landscaping, outfitting the sales offices, and other last-minute details — but Jeb Balise was already talking about the next phase of his company’s long and ongoing project.

That would be the demolition of what is now the old Honda dealership a few miles down the street. Once that structure is razed, Balise Motor Sales can get started on the construction of a new Lexus dealership on that footprint. And when that’s done, the company can take down the old Lexus facility and create a boulevard between the new Lexus store and the massive new Toyota dealership the company opened in late 2007.

And then … Jeb Balise might actually get a break from talking about construction work.

“Maybe, but by then we’ll probably be starting on work at some of our dealerships in Rhode Island,” he said with a laugh.

So there is no clear end in sight for one massive project — comprised of many smaller initiatives — to expand and upgrade the Balise company’s dealerships to meet the demands of various carmakers and, more to the point, serve customers better.

This project, as Balise calls it, has involved several different facilities, and it has changed the landscape on Riverdale Street and both East and West Columbus Avenue in Springfield, often in dramatic fashion. No more so than with the new, 39,000-square-foot Honda facility, built on the site of the former Yale Genton clothing store, but not before a number of additional parcels were acquired to turn what had been a 2.5-acre footprint for Yale Genton into a 9-acre facility.

The dealership is more than twice of the size of the old Honda facility, and it has 33 service bays, compared to 14 at the store it replaced.

With that capacity, the dealership can take care of more service customers in a more-timely fashion and, bottom line, sell more cars, said Balise, adding that this has been the goal — and the result — with each of the projects it has undertaken to date.

“When the [old] Honda comes down and we build Lexus, we’ll have absolute world-class customer conveniences in all three dealerships,” he said, “in every way, shape, and form.”

Model of Excellence

Now that the old Honda facility is officially closed and already half-demolished, Balise felt he could talk about that facility candidly.

“Getting in and out of that [old] Honda store was like going to a demolition derby — you just hoped to survive finding a place to park,” he said, noting that the dealership, built in 1985, had become inadequate years ago. “We were so successful in sales that we just outgrew that store; we couldn’t give customers the kind of service they deserved.”

Balise says he can’t see 25 years down the road, and doesn’t know what the auto-sales business will look like then. But he can’t imagine that the new Honda dealership will ever become as inadequate as the old one was in its final years. “We overbuilt in a lot of ways,” he said, “and we overdid the parking. We have more than enough spaces now.”

Building first-class facilities that will easily last 30 years has been the goal with each individual piece of Balise’s project to modernize and expand its facilities. Recalling the various components and their dates of completion (at least to the best of his memory), Balise said the pieces started falling in place in 2006, with the completion of the new, state-of-art Toyota dealership on Riverdale Street.

Soon thereafter, renovations were completed at Balise Chevrolet on West Columbus Avenue in Springfield. A new Buick/GMC dealership was constructed on that same street in 2008, the same year that a new Balise Hyundai dealership was built on the site of the former Houser Buick on East Columbus.

Most of these projects, as well as the Honda and Lexus initiatives, were put on the drawing board in 2004 and 2005, said Balise, noting that, for the most part, things have gone according to the original schedule.

There have been a few complications, though, including the securing of a proper site for the new Honda store. Balise said the goal was always to remain on Riverdale Street — site of nearly a dozen dealerships, and a place where many car shoppers begin and end their searches — but assembling a site big enough was a stern challenge.

“We didn’t have enough land to keep Honda on the site, so we were struggling with what to do,” he explained. “We kept playing with a number of alternatives, but we were afraid that, with our growth, we’d end up two years later in the same boat that we were in — without adequate space. So we waited, and and when the Yale Genton site became available, everything just fell into place.”

When building the new Honda facility, Balise borrowed heavily from what has been a very successful new Toyota dealership. The looks are very similar, from the showroom space to the service waiting area to the backroom facilities.

“None of that’s by accident,” said Balise. “That model has been working very well for us, so it just made sense to do the same things here.”

And, as with the Toyota dealership, the larger Honda facility will add up to more jobs — 25% more, by Balise’s estimate. “We’ll be adding people across the board — technicians, advisors, salespeople, and managers.”

And while the Honda dealership did very well given the limitations of a 25-year-old facility and demolition-derby-like conditions, the expectations are even higher now that the company has what would certainly be considered room to grow.

Drive Time

As he led a quick tour of the new Honda facility, Balise conveyed considerable pride that the dealership had kept the dealership on Riverdale Street, replicated the amenities in the Toyota store, and completed construction in only six months.

But one could sense that he already had one eye, and much of his attention, on the next project — and the one after that.

With each piece that falls into place, he’s a little closer to being done with ‘the project,’ but there is still much ground to be broken and many ribbons still to be cut.

George O’Brien can be reached at

[email protected]

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