“I didn't expect the new building would boost business.”

MIDLAND, MI — Seven years after he took over an ailing Chrysler-Plymouth Dodge store in this city of about 65,000, Bob Feeny has relocated into a new $3.5 million structure on the growing north side of town.

Chrysler's great range of products has allowed me to fulfill this dream in only seven years,” declares Mr. Feeny at his office right alongside the L-shaped showroom.

“But what I didn't expect was that the new building would in itself boost business in sales, service and parts. That's like icing on the cake.”

Feeny Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge (the “Plymouth” will be deleted this year after the last Plymouth Neon is built) now averages about 112 new and used-unit sales a month on Eastman Ave., compared to 17 when Mr. Feeny, 43, bought out the previous store on Saginaw Road.

“This is a city which, thanks to Dow Chemical and Dow Corning being headquartered here, has the highest per capita number of science PhD's in the country,” says Mr. Feeny, explaining why Chrysler sales boomed here in the 1990s.

“They really liked the minivans, Vipers, Prowlers, Sebring convertibles and Ram trucks — and that was great for us despite the fact we were really squeezed in an old building downtown.”

The new 22,000 sq. ft. dealership is a white two-story edifice featuring high ceilings and a horseshoe-shaped front window below a Chrysler pentastar. There's a four-vehicle showroom, a cafe with four-seat tables, a paperwork area for consumers, a personal computer room and a children's play area.

Adapted from the Chrysler 2000 building book, the new Feeny structure also is unique inside with numerous displays of for-sale consumer items such as jackets and miniature car models. Soft drinks and doughnuts are free and the off-white interior and open offices and conference rooms “all make visitors feel at home — not like they're in a hard business setting,” says Mr. Feeny.

What's also different is being the only dealer location next door to the new Midland Mall, where Wal-Mart and Meijer mega department stores and new restaurants draw shoppers from all across central Michigan.

The foresighted Mr. Feeny purchased his seven-acre lot early in his stint at the old downtown store, which is now his body shop. He had enough left over to buy a second C-P-Dodge store in Gaylord, MI, 118 miles north, in 1997.

“That's also a booming area,” says Mr. Feeney, who divides his week between Midland and Gaylord. “We've remodeled the showroom there, but I think we're done for the time being with building projects.”

A certified Five Star dealer, one of the first in a small town, Mr. Feeny finds the program helped him pinpoint shortcomings in his facilities and personnel and make needed corrections. The Midland store's 73 employees include 12 in sales “who now sell all vehicles, new and used, car and truck. Separating the staff functions before at the old store didn't work as well as letting them sell everything here.”

Mr. Feeny's brother, Dan, 48, also owns two Chrysler-brand dealerships-Feeny Chrysler-Jeep, Elgin, IL, and Feeny Dodge, Palatine, IL, suburbs of Chicago. They learned about the auto business at their father Jim's auto parts store in Detroit.

The new dealership building is near the campus of Northwood University, home of the dealership training school. Mr. Feeny expects dealers visiting their kids at Northwood to drop by for a tour of his new building. He says they're all welcome.

“It's neat to be a role model for small-town dealers especially,” he says. “I can guarantee being in a new home is a world of difference, despite all you go through to complete one.”