July 9, 2018

New Country finishes Hartford showroom spree

Photo | Gregory Seay
Photo | Gregory Seay
New Country Motor Cars Vice President Tim Parker at the new BMW Center.
Gregory Seay

New Country Motor Cars Inc., one of the nation's largest domestic-import auto retailers, made Hartford's North Meadows home in 1995, with its purchase of two local Mercedes-Benz and BMW franchises.

Right away, the Saratoga, N.Y., operator of dealerships in Connecticut and four other states, expanded its showroom at the foot of the Rev. Moody overpass, linking Weston Street and the Meadows to downtown. The expansion housed Mercedes-Benz's then-new line of M-Class sport utility vehicles.

Later, the SUV showroom gave way to New Country's Mini Cooper franchise, when German automaker BMW re-introduced the British-born Mini to legions of owners in the U.S. and Europe in the early 2000s. In 2014, New Country built and relocated its Mini showroom-service center to the opposite side of Weston Street, adjacent to its Mercedes-Benz sales-service campus.

Nearly two decades later, New Country has just completed another makeover of its North Meadows BMW Center showroom, spending $6.5 million this time around to mesh with BMW's "future retail program'' concept, says Tim Parker, New Country's vice president overseeing its three Hartford dealerships. A year earlier, the BMW Center service area was expanded to include extra service bays and a new car wash.

While traditional brick-and-mortar retailers like Sears and Toys R' Us succumb to the new reality of online shopping, auto dealerships so far appear immune to the trend. Indeed, dealerships nationwide are being built anew, expanded or remodeled.

New Country's Hartford showrooms are among a dozen domestic and import auto franchises comprising "dealers' row" along Weston Street. Two blocks north of New Country's campuses, a Range Rover dealership is rising on the former Baronet Coffee site, 77 Weston St.

Parker said parent New Country Motors, generating about $2.5 billion in annual sales and delivering about 30,000 new-used cars/trucks from its 32 dealerships — seven in Connecticut, and the rest in Florida, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania — was satisfied with its previous 33,500-square-foot BMW showroom at 1 Weston Park Road, but wanted a larger space with added amenities. The new facility is now 37,000 square feet.

This time, Parker says, New Country is confident its building-renovation spree is over — at least for now. The former Mini showroom was razed in mid-June, giving the expanded BMW store more curb visibility, plus freeing up 72 new parking spaces for new and used vehicles, he said.

New Country's BMW store is loaded with customer comforts like lounge areas with flat-screen TVs and a Wi-Fi-equipped "quiet" lounge. High ceilings and a huge display floor for as many as eight vehicles create a light, open feeling for customers and staff.

"Ongoing investments in facilities — both corporate and dealer — are part of maintaining the identity and value of the brand,'' said BMW of North America spokesman Kenn Sparks. "We are a premium company selling a premium product. Our customers expect our facilities to reflect the brand.

"Yes, it's expensive and yes, it's ongoing, but it's part of what's required to lead and succeed in the premium segment. The process of retail is changing but customer expectations of a premium brand are no less than before."

Along with the expansion, New Country has 15 new hires: seven new technicians; four salespeople; and an extra "product genius'' to the three on staff, who aid BMW buyers in understanding and using all their vehicles' embedded technology and features, such as "voice-read'' text messaging.

Expanding its BMW Center and demolishing the former Mini-Benz showroom blocking its view from Weston Street should cure, said Parker, who lives with his family in West Hartford, a common annoyance for him and his New Country mates.

"People would go to the Mercedes-Benz dealership,'' he said, "and ask if there was a BMW dealership nearby.''

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