The New Deal
Fathers & Sons to Expand, Reshape Facilities on Memorial AvenueIt’s called the ‘terminal concept.’
That’s the phrase Audi has attached to a relatively new design it is now requiring for the showrooms that will display its growing roster of models. In literature intended for dealers, the look — which, as the name implies, educes an airport terminal — is explained this way: “designed to evoke the racing history of the brand, support the operational needs of dealers, and represent Audi through innovative design and materials, the Audi terminal concept is another physical manifestation of the ethos ‘progressive, sporty, and sophisticated.’”
Damon Cartelli used fewer, less poetic, but still effective terms to describe it.
“It has a certain look; it’s very German … there’s lots of glass, lots of metal, it’s a clean look,” said the president of the Fathers & Sons chain of dealerships, who will be creating that look at a new facility to be built a half-mile or so down Memorial Avenue in West Springfield.
The facility where he spoke with BusinessWest, currently devoted to Audi, Volvo, and Porsche, opened its doors 12 years ago, carved out of the old Coliseum banquet house. Cartelli still considers it state of the art when it comes to dealership look, feel, and amenities, and if he had his druthers, he’d be selling Audis there for a few more decades. But the carmaker, like many others these days, is more or less demanding a dedicated showroom (one that will display only its product) and one that meets a number of design specifications, inside and out.
Thus, Cartelli is taking what he calls a business “leap of faith.”
“What people tell me is that there’s an increase in business any time you build a new facility — you get an inherent lift,” he noted. “But we already have a facility that I believe is high-end and representative of the brand. It’s a tough pill to swallow to build a new dealership, and I have my doubts, but I’m going to trust what the brand tells me and hope that if you build it, they will come.”
But that’s not all. This project is currently being called ‘phase one’ of an initiative that will change the face of a nearly two-block section of the north side of Memorial Avenue and possibly create some new business opportunities for this chain of dealerships.
Indeed, while creating the new Audi dealership on land currently occupied by a Midas muffler location, a tool-supply shop, and a few buildings housing various Fathers & Sons operations and inventory, Cartelli plans to create one and perhaps two other facilities, which on current blueprints are labeled ‘future dealerships.’
And there will be some options with regard to what carmakers’ names eventually go over the door, he said, adding that the list includes models sold at existing Fathers & Sons facilities on Memorial Avenue — Volvo, Porsche, Volkswagen, and Kia — as well as some nameplates not currently sold in Western Mass., including Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti, and Acura, among others.
Meanwhile, the new Audi dealership will provide an opportunity to perhaps better showcase one of the hottest car lines at the moment, one expected to gain additional momentum with new models in the A-3 series, a smaller, less-expensive line, said Cartelli.
“We’re currently selling roughly 20 cars a month,” he said of the Audi brand. “With the new A-3 series coming out, Audi’s projection is that we’re going to almost double that number.”
Demolition of existing buildings on Memorial Avenue will commence within the next month, ground should be broken on the new Audi facility by spring, and the dealership is expected to open its doors by the end of next year, he said, adding that, while this timeline is aggressive, it is also realistic.
For this issue and its focus on auto sales, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the plans that will give a new look to that section of Memorial Avenue — and write a new chapter in the intriguing history of this family business.
This would be the so-called auto mall, or facility that sells a number of different nameplates under one roof. There are still many operating, he said, including the dealership the Cartelli family fashioned from the Coliseum, which at one time sold four brands — Audi, Volvo, Porsche, and Saab, the last of which is no longer made.
Increasingly, though, automakers want a facility dedicated solely to their models, mostly to reduce (in theory, at least) the odds of a consumer eventually driving away with another carmaker’s product.
“Customers won’t have contact with the other brands, which is something the factory wants,” he explained while discussing the planned new Audi dealership. “It’s funny how this industry went from the auto-mall-type complex where you could stay inside and shop all the brands and compare and go from there, to the dedicated dealership, because the factories don’t want their models to be compared to the others, even though that’s going to happen anyway.”
This was just one of the dynamics that led to the commencement of discussions between Cartelli and Audi nearly two years ago, with the carmaker aggressively stating its case for both a dedicated dealership and that aforementioned terminal concept, and Cartelli agreeing, if somewhat reluctantly, to take that leap of faith.
Memorial Avenue was the logical place to build such a facility, with the existence of other company dealerships and the potential for economies of scale, said Cartelli, who commenced putting together a plan — one that would involve use of existing Fathers & Sons facilities and acquisition of other property with frontage on that street — and then executing it.
He acquired the Midas property last spring, and entered into a purchase-and-sale agreement on the tool-supply shop late last summer. He also hired an architect to work in conjunction with one commissioned by Audi to develop a design.
The emergence of a casino proposal for property in the southeast corner of the Big E complex that virtually surrounds the existing Audi, Volvo, and Porsche dealership added some intrigue to the planning process, and there were discussions with casino developer Hard Rock International about acquiring the Father & Sons site.
But the talks never advanced, and Cartelli, sensing that the casino proposal would be defeated in a referendum — which it was — proceeded with the mindset that Fathers & Sons would keep its existing facility and expand down the street.
Cartelli visited several Audi dealerships in New England that had created the terminal concept, and eventually adopted something similar to others — especially the Wallingford, Conn. store — but still unique in its own way.
The planned 27,000-square-foot facility, not much smaller than the current home to three makes, will include a showroom big enough to display eight cars (the current Audi space can showcase five or six, depending on the models), an eight-bay service area, and a waiting area with most of the amenities that newer luxury-model dealerships boast, from a flat-screen television to leather couches to Internet access.
The new Audi store, which comes with a sticker price of roughly $3 million, will create both more space and flexibility at the existing facility, said Cartelli, adding that Porsche has been pressing for more showroom space there and will get it when the existing Audi showroom is apportioned to the other German automaker, doubling the number of cars that can be put on display. Meanwhile, the existing Porsche space on the lower level of the dealership will be renovated into a service area for Porsche and possibly Volvo.
As for the ‘future dealership’ notations on the early blueprints for the project, Cartelli said time will eventually tell how these will be colored in.
While it is possible that one of the existing dealerships (Volkswagen or Kia) will be expanded and updated into one or more of those slots, a model (or two) currently not sold in this region may emerge as a contender if the circumstances permit.
“You need some luck and the willingness of the factory to recognize that they need a dealership in this area,” he said, noting that, with some nameplates — Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz, for example — the nearest dealerships are in Hartford, and the manufacturers are currently content with that.
Into a Higher Gear
Looking ahead, Cartelli said he’s optimistic that the new dealership will do what Audi believes it will — bring more people to the showroom and, in the long run, sell more cars.
“I hope the building alone gives us some lift,” he told BusinessWest. “But what I’m really relying on is their products, what I see coming, what I believe is coming, the strength of the brand, and the direction they’re heading. All this leads me to make this investment, because if it wasn’t for what I believe is a very strong brand, I would just stay here and say, ‘thanks, but no thanks,’ and continue to sell cars out of this facility.”
As he said, this is a leap of faith, one that he hopes — and expects — will land him in a position to grow the business and drive more opportunities.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]