By Lawrence Papoff
Brothers Stacey and Jordan Ison wrestled with the idea of putting the showroom for their new Kia store, Toronto Kia, on the second floor.
The building was going vertical not horizontal because of the limited space. They didn’t have the luxury of putting the service department behind the showroom. A second-floor service department meant the freight elevator would be overworked, they reasoned.
The more they thought about it, the more it made sense: put the showroom on the second floor.
“This is a destination, Stacey Ison told Canadian AutoWorld. “No one is going to turn around and leave because our cars are on the second floor. That was the biggest decision and it flowed from there.”
Then the brothers had to do a little wrestling with the folks at Kia Canada. They were ill at ease with the concept of an “all-glass” exterior and stark white interior.
The brothers felt the Kia image guidelines were behind the times, not hip.
“We understand who our clientele are. They are young hipsters. That was the challenge with Kia. Their design philosophy was different from what we had in mind. We felt it was from 20 years ago and hadn’t kept up.
“We challenged them on many issues: the colour of the floor tiles; the furniture. They were wonderful. They cut us enough slack, so we could do it our way and when they came to do their final approval, they were blown away.”
He went on to say that there were plenty of doubting Thomases, who thought light colours, especially white floor tiles, would get dirty and stay that way.
The brothers had an answer to that: keep them clean.
“We wanted it bright and airy and open, glass on all sides,” Ison says.
There is lots of glass. The main entrance, a stairway to the second floor is glassed in. Sunlight floods the area drawing the customer to the eight-car showroom.
All that goes on in the main floor service department is visible to passersby who wave; techs wave back. Waving back is company policy.
“When we worked with the electricians, they told us no one makes a service department as bright as the showroom. And we said ‘You’ve met your match here. This is a service showroom. We want the same lighting.’
“It’s like a restaurant putting the kitchen up front. We have nothing to hide.”
The keep-it-clean philosophy extends to the service department with its white, tiled floors and white walls.
Stains show. Stacey Ison pounces on a bright yellow oil leak on the floor and makes sure a tech dispatches it.
The brothers added another touch: a sound system. As long as the store is open, it throbs away.
“You have to create the right ambiance for people to want to shop. Sound is a very important part of retail.”
The Isons are not newcomers to the auto retail. They own Toronto Honda to the east. When the Danforth was known as “Motorcar Alley,” the Ison family opened a used-car store, called Morton Motors in 1955. They moved on to franchise retail in 1971 opening a Mazda dealership then a Saab dealership, all on the Danforth.
The Isons turned to Honda in 1975.
Like most downtown dealerships, space is in short supply and that calls for creativity. A traditional sign base would have gobbled up two parking spaces, so the Kia logo on the dealership’s eastward facing wall, replaces it.
“You can see it two miles away!” Ison boasts.
Small, round desks replace rectangular tables.
“You don’t need much room to do a car deal,” he says.
There are no offices or a separate customer lounge. The open space leaves more room for cars. There are other rewards for space thriftiness, too.
“We took one room (the showroom) and made it for everybody. That does a lot of things for us. When you have everybody in one room, it creates a buzz. There can be only be one customer in the showroom, but it looks busy because of the number of staff we have.
“And there’s another reason: it facilitates communication between staff.”
The $4 million building took nine months to build and opened in mid-June. The brothers Ison says they didn’t sit back and let the architects have their way.
“One of the mandates we gave to the architects (Carson Woods) was that space counts, Stacey Ison says. “My brother and I are very detail oriented. We went over the plans hundreds of times to see if we could find a square foot here and a square foot there.
“It would have been a very different building if we had said to the architects: ‘Build it! ‘”