Andy O’Donnell, operating partner at Valley Truck Centers and Valley Auto Group, which owns three Ford stores in Ohio, said he’s planning to build two Elite Commercial Service Centers.
The first, in Cleveland, will be between 55,000 to 63,000 square-feet and is scheduled to open by year end. It will have 30 service bays — up 18 at the store today — as well as a technician training center and cost between $8 million and $9 million to build.
O’Donnell, who is part of Ford’s dealer council, said his Cleveland store has about 350 open repair orders a day and he expects to double the store’s throughput when the Elite center opens.
“Making the financial commitment in the facilities is somewhat of a no-brainer for us,” he said. “It’s a nominal investment as a dealer when we’re looking at what the return is going to be.”
Chris Gulbrandson, president of Apple Autos in Apple Valley, Minn., opened the first Elite center in January.
His store was planning to expand its service capacity even before Ford CEO Jim Farley created the Ford Pro business unit in 2021, and he worked with the automaker to meet the required standards during construction.
Gulbrandson said his commercial service shop, separate from the store’s retail customer service operations, previously had eight repair bays which struggled to keep up with demand.
“We were just jammed up,” he said. “You could barely drive through the parking lot because there was so much work there.”
The new facility includes 26 service bays, a 22-bay collision center and a 13,000-square-foot parts department. He’s now open on Saturdays and plans to add a second shift of workers for the expanded weekday hours.
Gulbrandson said he spent $12 million on the building, $3 million on equipment and an additional sum on land.
He’s already seeing a return on his investment.
Two months into this year, he said the center is profitable, with commercial service gross profit up 13 percent over 2022.
“Service is critical,” he said. “We’re going into some headwinds this year with interest rates and pricing of new vehicles. … Commercial service is really the backbone of the store.”
While Ford does not require dealers to build new collision centers as part of the Elite facility, Gulbrandson said he’s also seen an uptick in the amount of repair work fleet owners are opting to do.
“Commercial, in general, is underserved,” he said. “You can see that in our parking lot, in the fact that there’s stacks of vehicles waiting to be serviced. For the most part, it’s plumbers, HVAC people, construction people. They can’t afford to have a truck down five days or two weeks while you wait to get to it. The quicker you can get to these cars, the more business they can do, which helps everyone.”