EchoPark in Canada ‘not far fetched:’ Sonic executive

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Jackson Hayes

Sonic Automotive says it has been approached about expanding its groundbreaking EcoPark used-car concept into Canada and beyond.

And while there remains no concrete plans in place to bring the business model across the border, Jeff Dyke, Sonic's executive V-P of operations, told Canadian AutoWorld there is opportunity in this market.

“We will make sure that we build out the markets we want to build out in the States first, but it is not far fetched at all to have EcoPark stores in Canada,” he says.

So much so, the North Carolina-based mega-dealership group has even secured the naming rights for EchoPark in Canada.

“I wouldn’t tell you that we’ll be there tomorrow, but I also wouldn’t say that we would never be there. It is certainly worth discussing and that is why we secured the name and the copyrights in Canada.”

This year and next will be a pivotal period for the stores as Sonic spends millions to expand the network across in four states.

Roughly two-dozen new points are expected to be added throughout Colorado, Texas and North and South Carolina over the back half of 2016 and into 2017. Work also continues on the company’s first in-mall location in Denver.

If all goes well with this expansion, it is likely the group will grow even more bullish with the concept. Sonic has stated it would work towards having 10 EchoPark dealerships per market in over 50 markets within the U.S.

The group opened its first EchoPark store in Denver in late 2014 and quickly followed with two satellite dealerships.

The concept was a store built from the customer’s perspective that removed many of the traditional pain points in the used-car retail process.

The contemporary look and feel is more akin to a Google campus than any other used-car store. It offers a low-stress, no pressure shopping experience underpinned with strong technology footings that lets shoppers do virtually everything online including booking a test drive, appraising their car, starting financing and booking service appointments.

Sales staff is called Experience Guides and are paid a salary and not on commission. The guides handle every aspect of the purchase including F&I and appraisal.

“EchoPark keeps tomorrow’s shopper in mind,” Dyck says.

The facilities are roughly 8,000- to 12,000-square feet with 250 to 300 cars on site. The average cost to build is $7.7 million including land with construction times taking approximately six months.

Sonic says its next generation stores will likely be a bit smaller and be built a littler faster as it works to standardize its process of land acquisition and uses pre-fab construction techniques.

The end goal is to have land purchased and a store up and running in four months, he says.

Much of this flies in the face of conventional franchise automotive retail, which continues to see larger and larger facilities as in-store traffic continues to decline – an irony not lost on Dyke.

“When you look at the new car side of the business, the manufacturers still have it in their mind that you have to build huge monstrosities in order to sell cars. These require huge investments in facilities. On the pre-owned side you don’t have some one on top of you telling you what to build and where you have to build it,” he says.

Dyke adds that many OEMs are forgetting about the generation gap that is on its way with Millennials and that if anyone believes young people today are going to shop for cars the way generations previously have, “you are just crazy. You’ll go the way of Kodak. It’s just not going to happen.”

And with the first EchoPark store turning a profit ahead of schedule based on a technological and data-driven experience not dependent on big bricks and mortar, the innovate concept first birthed in Denver might just rewrite the rules of business.