Feb. 16, 2017 10:24 AM

The number of car dealers on Johnston Street south is growing, and customers are taking notice.

Photo by Robin May

Several new car dealerships have been cropping up on Johnston Street south of the Acadiana Mall in the last few years, including a newly renovated Hampton Toyota dealership, a recently completed Sterling Kia dealership, a new Giles Volvo facility and a recently announced Moss Motors Mercedes-Benz dealership.

This de facto auto mall has been steadily growing and serves as a potential indicator of a bullish local economy. However, the question remains: Why are so many dealerships setting up shop there?

ABiz spoke with some of these auto dealers to find out.

Giles Automotive’s new deal

Giles Automotive is building a $5 million standalone Volvo dealership on South City Parkway next to the Lafayette South Regional Library on Johnston Street directly across from Giles Nissan. Ground was broken on the 5.8-acre site in late 2016, and the new Volvo facility is expected to be completed later this fall.

Giles Subaru and Giles Volvo have shared a dealership at 6133 Johnston St. since 2002, but owner Bob Giles tells ABiz that the reasoning behind giving Volvo its own dealership is to accommodate several new Volvo models coming to the market.

“I was the first one to build there, originally,” says Giles. “I opened up in the spring of 1982, with a Volkswagen, Porsche and Audi dealership about three miles south of the mall. I was actually the first new car dealer to locate south of the Acadiana Mall on Johnston Street.”

Giles reveals that when he originally bought the 14-acre site, he only needed six acres to build his business. He says he planned to sell the leftover eight acres to someone who might need to build a new facility. “After going through the list of dealers, in my mind I thought Art LeBlanc with Sterling (Kia) would be the most likely, so I called him and he came over immediately, and we made a deal and he built his Kia dealership there,” says Giles. “And so, I purposefully wanted another auto dealer in this area. I just think it helps — the more dealers that are together, the better.”

Other car dealers, such as Toyota and Mitsubishi, have followed suit since then, building their own facilities adjacent to Giles Automotive. At one time, Lincoln had also built a facility along that stretch of Johnston, but has since moved to Ambassador Caffery. But when other franchises such as Audi and Infiniti were looking for property, they quickly migrated to Auto Row.

Sterling Kia Automotive recently opened its 40,000-square-foot dealership at 125 South City Parkway in November. The site features a two-story “gallery” design, which is one of Kia’s largest available dealership models, of which only 12 have been built nationwide. The new dealership replaces the Sterling Kia at 1111 N. University Ave., and is double the size.

“I just think now that there is kind of a central location for a lot of the dealers, that when dealers are looking to move or expand, there’s property out here available,” says Giles. “It’s somewhat reasonably priced and enough of it and it’s a good area of town.

“We all attract business to this area, and it’s kind of like a mall concept where you have a bunch of retail businesses located all together,” says Giles. “It just kind of creates a magnet for customers.”

Hampton Toyota redux

Hampton Toyota first set up shop at 6191 Johnston St. back in 2001 and was soon joined by other automotive groups that began marking their territory in the area.

“It’s become ‘Wholesale Row’ or ‘Auto Row’ I guess, recently,” says Hampton Toyota CFO Mike Perry. “They have Infiniti now. Then Volkswagon across the street. Audi went up next to them. Mercedes is building right now. Giles just built down the street. Kia is here.”

Hampton Toyota is currently undergoing an $8.5-million renovation and expansion of its 17-acre campus at 6191 Johnston St. Hampton Toyota began its renovation in August with the intent of expanding its facility to 55,000 square feet. The renovation is estimated to be complete by September.

Perry says he believes the reason that “Auto Row” attracts so many potential car buyers is because it’s just that good of a location.

“I think a lot of it has to do with us,” Perry says.

“Toyota tends to attract a lot of traffic, a lot of customers. And the other dealerships just want to get in. They want to get right next to where the customers are and do their best to try to get them in.”

Asked if Hampton Toyota’s renovation is a response to other similar efforts from area dealers or a mandate from its manufacturer, Perry says, “It’s not necessarily a mandate, but the manufacturer has guidelines and expected dealership sizes to accommodate future growth. So they know the size that they would like it to be, but it’s not required. But, basically, we are increasing our size larger than what they would like it to be.”

Mercedes-Benz makes its move

Perhaps the biggest development along Auto Row announced for this year is the $9.7 million Mercedes- Benz facility that Moss Motors broke ground on late 2016, a six-acre site at 6200 Johnston St., next to Rouses Supermarket.

The Moss group of dealerships also includes BMW and Honda, both located on Surrey Street along with its existing Mercedes-Benz luxury line, which has operated since 2007. Part of the Mercedes-Benz Autohaus design, the all-new concept will feature an expanded service and sales area. The anticipated opening is early 2018.

Sharon Moss, owner of Moss Motors, says she believes that the location is ripe for development.

“In retail, anytime that there’s other places to shop it’s good for the consumer,” says Moss. “I think it gives people a choice, and it’s a good shopping experience for the consumer. It makes it easier for them to compare products, and I like that. It’s just accessible and convenient for consumers.”

In addition to new vehicles, the dealership will offer certified pre-owned and used Mercedes models, as well as the high performance AMG line of Mercedes vehicles.

Moss says that once the facility is complete, the old Moss Motors dealership on Surrey Street is “going to be imploded” to make room for more parking and display space for its BMWs and Hondas.

“The new dealership will be very high tech, and we look forward to selling a whole bunch more cars and making it a lot easier for our consumers,” says Moss. “It’s all about the consumer and making it easier for them to get in and out.”

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