Century Automotive to break ground on new ground-up BMW facility at old Holiday Inn

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Century Automotive to break ground on new ground-up BMW facility at old Holiday Inn

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Century Automotive Group will break ground on new BMW facility late this summer on a 5.5-acre site west of the existing dealership on University Drive. President Tracy Jones said the old Holiday Inn property has been demolished. (Marty Sellers | sellersphoto.com)
Lucy Berry | lberry@al.comBy Lucy Berry | lberry@al.com 
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on January 06, 2015 at 5:20 PM, updated January 07, 2015 at 12:42 PM
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HUNTSVILLE, Alabama - Century Automotive Group is preparing to break ground late this summer on a new 40,000-square-foot ground-up BMW facility on 5.5 acres west of the dealership's existing site where the old Holiday Inn Express was located.

It's a big step for the luxury automotive company, which was named the Alabama Retail Association's 2014 Gold Retailer of the Year in the annual sales of more than $20 million category.

Century Automotive President Tracy Jones said the new facility with 33 state-of-the-art service bays will nearly double her company's footprint, which currently has six luxury car franchises on 7.43 acres of land on University Drive in Huntsville.

"It made business sense for us because we like that location," said Jones, who hopes to help revitalize that area of Huntsville. "From a business standpoint, we're between Hampton Cove, South Huntsville and Madison."

Contemporary look

On target for a late summer 2016 opening, the BMW facility will be outfitted with modern furniture, digital signage, graphics and a contemporary layout with fewer cubicles to improve flow between the reception area, showroom and delivery. Client and service advisers will use digital tablets to help customers during the buying process.

Jones, who operates Century Automotive with her husband George, said the luxury car buying experience has changed significantly in the last five years. To meet the needs of customers, the new facility will feature a "welcome destination" similar to Starbucks where customers can drink coffee, make phone calls and use free Wi-Fi without a high-pressure sales pitch.

"While they're there, if they want to look at cars, they can," she said. "We hope in the long term of things that they'll feel good about being there, feel good about the cars and will put us on their shopping list."

Jones' father, John Shields II, opened the dealership in 1969 as Royal Chevrolet. Twelve years later, the business became Century Automotive.

Jones, who worked as a certified public accountant in Houston before coming to work as a controller at Century Autmotive, began working side-by-side with her husband in 1989. Four children later, their company was named the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County's Small Business of the Year and TIME Magazine's 2007 Quality Dealer of the Year among 60,000 dealerships nationwide.

BMW brand

As Century Automotive moves forward with the expansion, Jones expects the new BMW electric vehicle line will play a big role in future profitability for the dealership, which offers both the i3 and i8 vehicles.

"We at Century made the decision to expand our product line-up to include the 'i' brand from BMW," she said. "The early buzz on this cleverly-crafted vehicle indicates that it will be a profitable product in a community that was recently named as the second most-educated in the state."

There are no definite plans for the existing Century Automotive facility, which employs 110, but Jones said additional franchises and a used car supercenter are "viable business models."

Jones declined to say how much Century Automotive is investing in the expansion. She doesn't anticipate a big jump in employment as more technology is implemented at the dealership.

George Jones told AL.com the automotive company is fortunate to have very little employee turnover.

"We want to make sure we hire the right people and then we take good care of them and they take good care of our customers," he said.

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