As the finishing touches are being put on its new BMW dealership in Thousand Oaks, Rusnak Auto Group is banking on a strong service department and more pre-owned vehicle business to weather the global downturn.
The new Rusnak BMW Westlake is the largest BMW dealer in the country, according to Tom Valasek, director of marketing for Rusnak Auto Group. It measures 230,000 square feet over six stories on a three-acre site at 3645 Auto Mall Drive in the Thousand Oaks Auto Mall.
“We’ve been planning this dealership for nearly 10 years,” Valasek said. “It’s the ultimate dealership.”
The nearly decade-long planning and construction process was slowed by approval processes from both BMW and the city of Thousand Oaks, which had concerns about the overall height of the project. Additionally, construction crews discovered water at a higher-than-anticipated level that threatened the planned underground parking area.
Gary Wartik, manager of economic development for the city of Thousand Oaks, said the project will look more in place with the rest of the auto mall once the landscaping was finished.
“It gives a nice fresh look to the auto mall that complements other improvements dealers are making to existing facilities,” he said, pointing out Silver Star Auto Group’s recent renovations to some of its freeway-bordering showrooms.
Parking problems have troubled the Thousand Oaks Auto Mall, and Wartik is meeting with the dealers this month to resolve a lack of street parking around the dealers. An angled parking program in development for two years by city planners and engineers is set for approval in the coming weeks.
Parking is not at a premium for the BMW facility right now. Valasek said the building has enough space to accommodate customer and employee parking but that could change depending on how much BMW inventory they have. Rusnak has previously rented off-site space for overflow inventory and employee parking.
“The BMW showroom is better enabled to handle its own parking than other facilities in the area,” Wartik said.
He and Valasek agree that Rusnak is now in a better position to showcase its products and meet customer needs.
The former BMW site at 3832 East Thousand Oaks Blvd. was shared with Audi and Porsche sales and service. Now those other brands will be allowed to expand into BMW’s old space.
Valasek said Rusnak’s Westlake operations are coming off of a strong end to 2008.
“We broke our record for pre-owned sales at the Westlake dealership in December,” he said. He predicts BMW sales will grow in 2009, mostly on the strength of pre-owned vehicles. BMWs that have undergone the company’s pre-owned certification process are often eligible for special interest rates from BMW’s financial services.
And even if sales slide, Valasek points to the success of Rusnak’s service departments. He says the 62 service bays are already “jam packed.” The BMW service department will soon feature a rental car agency and a coffee shop, both under construction now.
“People are probably hanging onto their cars for a longer time now,” Valasek said. “But they don’t want to take their car to just any mechanic.”
This boost in business has opened the door for more employment opportunities at Rusnak, but Valasek says the company isn’t rushing to hire people yet.
“We’re being careful in choosing the right people,” he said. “There are a lot of dealerships scaling down, while we’re scaling up.”
Perhaps the biggest benefit from the new BMW building is its freeway visibility. Along with the acquisition of Westoaks Chrysler-Dodge last year, Rusnak sees Thousand Oaks as an “enormous opportunity.”
Valasek declined to specify any plans to remodel the other two Rusnak locations in Thousand Oaks, or to say any new franchises were going to be installed.
“The area is an outstanding area to do business, and it will stay a strong area to do business for a long time,” he said. “For the long haul we look to build a presence at the Thousand Oaks auto mall not only for sales but for service.”
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