- Plaza Buick GMC of Omaha, Nebraska, is a mostly indoor dealership, housed inside a former Sam's Club building, but it doesn't lock up at closing time.
- On Friday and Saturday nights and all day Sunday, customers can come on in, check out the unlocked cars all they want, and snack on cookies and ice cream, all with no salespeople present.
- Dealer Principal Al Wittmann told Edmunds that it makes customers comfortable to have unhurried tire-kicking opportunities, knowing they can leave written messages or call and e-mail to continue the sales process with a salesperson when the store is open.
OMAHA, Nebraska — At Plaza Buick GMC, the idea of "closing time" is a little different.
This dealer, which operates mainly indoors in a big-box store that used to house a Sam's Club, leaves the doors unlocked and welcomes shoppers after the staff goes home — which, Dealer Principal Al Wittmann told Edmunds, actually adds to the satisfaction of the dealership's customer base.
"We decided early on that people would like that," Wittmann said. "I've seen where people literally sit on the other side of the road and wait for the staff to walk out of a dealership" so they can go look at cars on the lot alone before initiating a relationship with a salesperson. "We understand that people like to look, and that's fine with us."
Having the majority of the inventory indoors makes it more pleasant for the customers at night and during bad weather, he said.
"It also cut our open-lot insurance just about in half," said Wittmann, who said hail is a particular hazard in this high-plains state.
Plaza Buick GMC prominently displays its after-hours open browsing times, which are Friday and Saturday, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.
People who come in can also enjoy free cookies and ice cream from an old-fashioned bicycle-mounted ice cream box. The dealer's offices are locked up, but the restrooms are open, and so are the doors to all the vehicles — some 160 at any one time. A security guard is on hand "for their protection as well as our own," he said, while they look at Buick, GMC and other vehicles on the lot.
For after-hours visitors, the dealership leaves out question forms for people to fill out, expressing interest or asking questions, so the staff can contact them.
"For the most part, people will contact us," he said. "We get a lot of 'We were in on Sunday and we saw this car, could you?.'"
Wittmann said it's all about the psychology: Getting customers to relax, feeling that the dealership is not just a store, but somewhere "comfortable, warm, and inviting.
"We keep the vehicles relatively spread out, so people can walk around them," Wittmann said.
He told Edmunds that the design of the dealership was his idea, after looking at other enclosed dealerships around the country; it's intentionally set up to look like an open-air Mediterranean plaza more than a store.
"We have people come in every day and just walk around, get the free ice cream, free chocolate chip cookies, and free car wash," he said.
And that feeling of comfort continues all the rest of the time, when the dealership is open and salespeople are ready to work with customers.
Edmunds says: What a way to get the car-buying experience off to a great start.