By Myron Love
WINNIPEG, MAN. – Almost two years ago, the Birchwood Auto Group, Winnipeg’s largest auto group, suffered two body blows when an ailing General Motors closed its Saturn stores (one of which was a Birchwood store) and revoked the franchise for Birchwood Pontiac, the group’s long time flagship store.
Faced with having to fill two buildings, Birchwood Auto Group president Steve Chipman and his team went to work. Today, with the addition of three new franchise operations, the Winnipeg-based auto group – now with 14 franchised operations representing 15 different brands – is stronger than ever.
Chipman and company’s first move was to negotiate a merger with Orion Chevrolet, one of two independently owned dealerships in the Pointe West AutoPark (the other six were Birchwood-affiliated stores).
The former Orion Chevrolet was relocated to the Birchwood Pontiac building and renamed Birchwood Chevrolet Buick GMC.
The next move saw the opening of Birchwood Kia West in the former Orion space last December.
At 31,500 square feet, Birchwood Kia West is Canada’s largest Kia store. At the grand opening in March, Chipman noted that the new Kia dealership is actually a multi-use facility.
Among the other services in place in the store is an Enterprise Rent-A-Car counter, which used to be housed in the Birchwood Group’s administration building across the road; the new Birchwood Detail and Spa Centre, Birchwood’s call centre; the shuttle service for the nine Birchwood-owned stores in the AutoPark; and the used vehicle procurement office.
To fill the Saturn location (next door to Birchwood Chev), Birchwood opened Manitoba’s (and Saskatchewan’s) first dedicated GM truck centre. While the Birchwood Truck Centre has been open for business since late last year, the signage only arrived at the beginning of August.
“We freshened up the building,” says Greg Flom, the Birchwood Truck Centre’s general manager of the renovations. “We redid the customer lounge, added a large mural of GM products through the years and put in a new display cabinet in our dedicated accessories area.”
“Over half the business we do at Birchwood Chev is trucks,” he adds. “So our truck centre is a very busy place.”
Flom reports that the new truck centre maintains an inventory of about 350 new trucks. And customer sales service is provided by six sales reps that only sell trucks and know their product very well.
The Birchwood Group’s newest store, Birchwood Hyundai in north Winnipeg, opened for business two months ahead of schedule.
Rene Nicholson, the Birchwood Group’s special projects manager, reports that construction on the nearly $4 million, 18,500 square foot Hyundai will have room for eight models in the showroom.
Next up for the Birchwood Group is an expansion of its Nissan Infiniti store, which is scheduled to begin near the end of the year.