Online shopping may be hot, but Bennett believes car sales is a people business

5 min read823 views and 61 shares Posted September 10, 2020

Even before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, more and more people were turning to the internet as a means for purchasing their next vehicles.

But that, in no way, can diminish the importance of conducting business face-to-face. The best way to buy a new car has always been through human interaction, with a certain personal touch.

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Bennett Toyota of Lebanon is banking on that trend continuing well into the future.

Bennett is currently executing a plan to move its Toyota dealership in Lebanon from 1509 Quentin Road to 2635 West Cumberland Street. The move is expected to be completed by the middle of September, and the Allentown-based auto group is planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the beginning of next month and a grand opening later in October.

Read More: Bennett Toyota of Lebanon will move to Route 422 with 30,000 SF dealership

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The new building will provide Bennett Toyota more space to do business, a tool to better serve its local clientele and a place of its own to call home.

The new Bennett Toyota building on West Cumberland Street. (Jeff Falk)

“Pre-COVID-19, more consumers were doing research online,” said Chris Zerfass, Bennett Toyota of Lebanon’s general manager. “But a very small percentage were completing their transactions. During COVID-19, we were offering a by-appointment-only option, and more people were completing their transactions online. Now we’ve almost reverted back to the way things were prior to COVID-19.

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“A lot of people still like to come to the dealership,” Zerfass. “They still like to come in and test drive the vehicle, and now they can do it on their own. It’s very personal. A lot of people still like the full product presentation, and we still need to be able to service our customers. Toyota has Toyota Care, which provides complimentary maintenance for the first five services.”

The $9.2 million project, which will include a 30,000-square-foot and a four-acre lot to accommodate between 300-400 new and pre-owned vehicles, is nearing completion. The new dealership will feature 16 service bays, an enclosed area for dropping off vehicles to be serviced, offices, a car wash, and a spacious waiting area equipped with a café.

Local general contractor Arthur Funk and Sons, Lebanon civil engineer Steckbeck Engineering, and Watkins Architect of Fleetwood all contributed expertise to the project.

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“Over the last few years here in Lebanon, there have been a couple of properties for sale,” said Zerfass, 64. “We wanted to be on 422, on Cumberland Street. The majority of dealerships in Lebanon are there. This will help create a ‘Lebanon auto mile’, if you will. You have so many brands represented in that area. It’s really a great place to be. We think it’ll be good for folks and give them options.

“What we’re really excited about is how we’ll be able to service our customers,” Zerfass continued. “It’s a really easy flow, to pull into the new dealership. We definitely want to be considerate of customers’ time. That’s an overall complaint in the industry. We want to get people in and out in 30 minutes or less.”

Bennett Toyota of Lebanon general manager Chris Zerfass. (Jeff Falk)

Bennett Toyota came to Lebanon in 2018, moving into the space on Quentin Road once occupied by Diamond Toyota, and before that Frederick Toyota. Frederick began selling Toyotas in Lebanon in 1990, then sold the franchise to Diamond in 2014.

“The original plan was to relocate from the beginning,” said Zerfass. “We knew we needed our own space, and Toyota wanted that as well. We had to build a brand-new, USA II Toyota dealership. It’s a facility that’s competitive for the market place. We’ve been operating out of a facility that we’ve been sharing with our landlord, Frederick Chevrolet.

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“We purchased the dealership from Diamond, because it was not performing to Toyota’s standards,” added Zerfass. “We did a nice job in the Allentown market. Toyota reached out to us and asked if we would be interested in this market.”

The Lebanon Toyota dealership became the sixth dealership owned and operated by the Bennett auto group. Four of those are located in Allentown, while the other calls Wilkes-Barre home.

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Bennett auto group is a second-generation business founded in Allentown in 1951. It has been selling Toyotas since 1969.

“We love the Toyota brand,” said Zerfass. “We found out that there was a dealership available, we did some research on Lebanon and the demographics and we thought it would be a great idea to build a dealership in this community. Toyota has a number of vehicles that continue to be ranked in the top ten for resale value. They are definitely environmentally conscious. We have two more hybrid-only vehicles that are being launched this year. In addition to being ‘green,’ Toyota is also trying to achieve CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) requirements set forth by the government.

“I think we want to be known as an honorable place that gives customers value,” Zerfass added. “Ultimately, we want to be here to serve. We don’t want to sell customers just one vehicle. We want to have long, long relationships with our customers.”

A selection of Toyota vehicles for sale on the Bennett Toyota lot. (Jeff Falk)

The new and used car market in Lebanon and across the country is as competitive as it’s ever been. For some consumers, purchasing a different vehicle is one of the most important financial decisions they will make.

“Every brand today brings some nice, attractive products to the table,” said Zerfass. “Our number-one competitor is Honda, and they do a nice job in Lebanon. Toyota expects us to perform in this market. If Toyota has 13 percent of the market in Pennsylvania, then they want to see the same representation in Lebanon. We need to achieve that.

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“You have to have a great product,” concluded Zerfass. “The staff has to be knowledgeable. The overall dealership has to be transparent with customers. We want to help as much as we can in the process. Having a facility that’s competitive for the market place and easy to navigate is going to help accomplish that. We definitely wanted to invest in this community. But the people who make it happen are on the front line, the employees.”

Because selling cars is still a people business.

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