For many dealers, the service department is an afterthought during the planning stages of a facility upgrade. That has led to problems for some dealers, says Sue Sulewski, account manager for General Motors Dealer Equipment and Services.

She tells of how one dealer had to rebuild a new service department because new equipment would not fit into the building. The architect simply designed a boxy area, not realizing the intricacies of equipment placement and workflow.

SPX Inc. facilities planner Bill Turner all but grew up in the service department. He says his blood is “part oil.” He believes planning the fixed operations facility should be a top consideration for dealers.

One reason is that a well-designed service facility can go a long way in attracting and retaining top service technicians — a major issue for large metro-area dealers.

“We're seeing dealers include things such as spas, workout facilities, separate men and women's showers and Internet workstations for their service employees.”

If a dealer lacks the resources for that, he or she still needs to consider investing in new service department technology.

That includes computers placed strategically throughout the department and faster-moving bay doors and lifts, says Turner. It saves time which means more money for the dealership.

“If I can knock off five minutes per vehicle repair with a well-designed facility, I can make the dealer a lot of money,” says Turner, who has been involved with more than 500 facility redesigns.

He adds, “At the surface, some of the price tags may look excessive, but when you consider the cost of hiring and training new techs, it becomes a smart investment.”

Sulewski says “Capital equipment has changed a lot in the last 10 years. Dealers can save themselves heartache if they include that equipment in the initial design budget.”

Auto makers are realizing how important the service department is to dealership profits and customer satisfaction. “We're starting to see some of these things get included in the manufacturers' designs,” Turner says.

Ken Nisch, chairman of JGA Inc., a firm that designs dealerships, believes the service department is as important as the showroom to the customer. “If you think about it, the customer spends much more time in the service department than in the sales area,” he says.