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Walser Car Dealerships Applying Technology To Business

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BURNSVILLE, Minn. (WCCO) — Smart phones have made the car buying experience very different. Now the industry is taking notice.

Walser Honda in Burnsville is testing a new “car showroom of the future.” As we found out from industry leaders, it’s a model you’ll likely start seeing anywhere you shop.

Cars still dot the showroom and customers still check them out, but that might be about all you recognize at Walser’s Honda Dealership in Burnsville.

“We looked at the way traditional old car dealerships were designed and said, you know that’s kind of old thinking let’s do away with offices and lets do away with desks,” said Doug Sprinthell, who runs the dealership.

Then they added cafeteria-style seating, Ipads and search stations.

“I had a lot of questions for him. He jumped on, there were mostly finance questions he was able to get stuff fast. It was great,” said John Allers, a car shopper.

“The idea is to make it feel as open and transparent as possible,” said Sprinthell.

The Minnesota Auto Dealers Association said it’s a trend they expect to see spread across the Twin Cities.

“In 2012 you’re going to see a lot of dealers upgrading their showrooms, see a lot of construction at the dealerships,” said Scott Lambert with the MADA.

It’s also something the National Dealers Association is tracking to see if auto groups get a return on their investment.

“We really think it’s the wave of the future and we want to be ahead of the pack,” Sprinthell said.

The concept is so new the dealership is still weighing the pros and cons. People are embracing the technology, but the chairs? Not so much.

“This arrangement does not work in a negotiating environment where you have customers right next to each other because those by necessity require some privacy,” said Sprinthell.

The dealership also plans to get rid of desks and paper.

“We’re actually working on being able to conduct an entire transaction on an Ipad, which is cool. Customers like that instead of the old style of running into the back room and writing numbers down on paper and trying to trick people. That’s really an old way to try and sell cars,” Sprinthell said.

But it’s an idea not everyone is sold on.

“Buying a car is a very personal experience and often times kind of a private experience, so we’ll see how this works for them because I still think a desk was kind of an intimate area where you could work on your problem with your sales person,” said Lambert.

Still, Sprinthell said most people have done research before they get in the door or can continue to do it in the dealership on their smart phones. Rather than fight that, Walser is embracing it.

So it’s all about the customer?

“Yeah, just like they’ve been saying forever, we just finally started listening to them,” Sprinthell said.

Because while most people still want to kick the tires and learn about the features, a paper brochure just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore.

Walser officials said they hope to convert all nine of its dealerships within a year. The MADA said it believes all dealerships will eventually tweak their showrooms to be more family-friendly, and more technology based.

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