Modern showrooms increase satisfaction for customers, employees alike Over-stuffed chairs, cappuccino and the latest selection from Oprah's book club. Sounds like your local Barnes & Noble, right? But it's just as likely to be a car dealership, because even though retro-styled cars are in, retro-styled car dealerships are out.

In a move to modernize their showrooms, increase employee morale and attract customers, car dealers are doing more than just changing oil and fixing brakes. They're updating their facilities, not only with new carpeting and a fresh coat of paint, but also with such amenities as children's play areas, small libraries, coffee carts and comfortable seating. Employees also are benefiting as they get new offices and work areas.

"The whole progression of the industry is to go more warm and friendly," says Joe Lozowski, owner and president of University Business Interiors in Farmington Hills, MI. Overall, he sees industry trends moving toward being more customer-oriented. Indeed, consumer psychology plays a large role in determining changes. And when dealers realize it's time for a change they call Mr. Lozowksi, who has helped several metro Detroit car dealers update their facilities. University Business Interiors, an interior design firm that also deals in commercial furniture and floor-covering, has seen styles change during the seven years it has been in business.

Compared to dealerships of the past, Mr. Lozowski sees dealerships now moving towards a more casual environment, one where a traditional desk is forsaken for a table, just like in someone's kitchen, with panels separating employee workstations.

"They still want it to be open," says Mr. Lozowski. "They typically use a lot of glass panels in order to see the [showroom] floor and lot." He says the reasoning behind the panels is that they create a sense of privacy between the salesperson and their customer, who usually want to discuss their finances in private and not have to worry about being overheard by other employees and customers. Also, a more open floor plan eliminates an inferior-superior situation, wherein a high-ranking employee may be up and elevated above the rest of the staff.

The use of color also plays an important role in the dealerships of today, with certain shades, such as anything neutral, being more popular than ever and anything trendy, read gaudy, being avoided. Michelle Davidson of University Business Interiors, who has worked closely with dealership owners, says color in a dealership often is dictated by the brand of car that is being sold there. For instance, Porsche dealer-ships are not supposed to use blue, only shades of gray or chrome.

"Manufacturers are trying to create consistent branding images across their entire line," says Mr. Lozowksi. Dealers who comply often are rewarded by manufacturers with incentives, he says. Yet, this doesn't create a completely identical environment. Mr. Lozowski says the only manufacturer where you're likely to find the same exact look in every showroom is Saturn.

As far as amenities are concerned, Mr. Lozowski says he sees a greater insistence on having a nice lounge area, replacing hard chairs with cushioned ones. Dealerships that sell a lot of family cars like to have play areas for kids and Ms. Davidson says she's even set up areas for Internet access at some dealership locations. She also says just about every dealership seems to have retail shops on site that sell their own merchandise.

The cost of a makeover can depend on many factors, including whether or not a remodeling is taking place, or if they are building from the ground up; if furniture is being replaced, or an entire office is redecorated.

Whatever the expense, the dealers say it's worth it.

"We've been here for 20 years and the dealership was showing its age," says Peter Cook of Bill Cook Porsche Audi of Farmington Hills, MI, who worked with University Business Interiors. "It was crowded and loud (before the remodeling) and now it's a more customer-friendly environment. We've had mostly raves; everybody's really amazed."

Dave Butler of the Suburban Collection of Troy, MI, a four-time client of University Business Interiors, echoes Mr. Cook's sentiments and says that in the year and a half since his showroom was redone he has received nothing but positive feedback. "Everybody really likes it," says Mr. Butler. "It's a lot more friendly, a lot more inviting, a lot more upscale. It was a pretty drab color scheme (previously) and now it's a lot more of a contemporary color, more of a black and red and gray."

Mr. Cook says University Business Interiors used a combination of grays and dark colors with accents at his dealership with each area having its own color scheme that flows from room to room.

Besides a showroom, University Business Interiors redesigned Mr. Butler's office twice and the cashier's and service areas. "They've done everything from installing additional sales stations to adding complete rooms," he says.