HOUSTON—After watching for several years as its competitors cashed in on the lucrative aftermarket quick service and light repair business, General Motors Corp. has finally joined the fray. The first Goodwrench Service Center, a GM-sanctioned, dealer-owned, satellite service center, opened last December. The 12-bay operation is owned by Houston car dealer George DeMontrond and is next to DeMontrond Automotive Group (Buick-Oldsmobile-Volkswagen-Volvo-Suzuki).
Four other centers are scheduled to open this year, said John Putnam, manager of new business initiatives for advertising and sales promotion at GM Service Parts Operations (GMSPO).
Goodwrench Service Centers are planned to open in Grand Rapids, Mich., around July 1 and Madison, Wis., around Sept. 1. Plans are being finalized for centers in the Washington, D.C., area and in Florida, Mr. Putnam said.
The Goodwrench Service Centers are designed not only to attract customers who own out-of-warranty GM cars and trucks but to attract owners of other makes as well, said William Lovejoy, general manager of GMSPO.
$159 billion business
Mr. Lovejoy said a dealership's service business is mostly vehicles that are about 5 years old or less. But according to the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, the retail market for parts and service in 1998 was $159 billion, and half of that business was for vehicles 10 years old and older.
``By servicing all makes and models, this expansion of the size and scope of our service business represents a new niche, a whole new market that GM Service Parts Operations was never able to reach before,'' said Mr. Lovejoy during the Houston store's grand opening Jan. 20.
``Goodwrench Service Centers will be able to attract these consumers with older vehicles that are no longer under warranty, both GM and non-GM models.''
Mr. Putnam said the centers are paid for by the dealer and will vary in price depending on the real estate cost, which can range from $150,000 to $800,000.
GM assists by providing marketing plans, training for technicians, financial analysis and demographic research, he said. GM also provides a two-year, interest-free loan on equipment that will cost from $150,000 to $250,000, he added.
Mr. DeMontrond said 55-60 percent of the vehicles that have been serviced at his center so far are 1995 models and earlier and that 67 percent are non-GM vehicles.
``Houston is the perfect market,'' he said. ``Houston is innovative and cutting edge like this facility.''
GM is the latest manufacturer to join in the dealer-owned, off-site service centers trend.
Zimbrick Inc., which sells 13 makes in Madison, Wis., pioneered the concept with a Honda service center in 1991; Zimbrick has been tapped by GM to open a Goodwrench Service Center.
Since then, several manufacturers such as Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler Corp., Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and Mercedes-Benz of North America Inc., have opened centers with their dealers.
Like other factory-sanctioned satellite service centers, DeMontrond's center specializes in light repairs and maintenance work that can be completed in two hours or less. The center does not perform warranty work or heavy jobs such as transmission overhauls.
Those jobs are referred to the parent dealership, said Rick Workman, the store's Goodwrench service leader.
DeMontrond's Goodwrench Service Center has a red-and-black sign and a red ``swoop'' canopy.
Inside are customer amenities such as a refreshment center with free soft drinks, coffee, bottled water and pastries; a parent-supervised play area; a work area with telephones and modem hookups; and baby-changing tables in both the men's and women's rest rooms.
The center's technicians previously worked at independent and aftermarket repair shops to make sure they have the experience to work on a wide variety of vehicle models, GM Service Parts Operations' Mr. Putnam said.
The technicians also were selected for their people skills because they talk directly with customers about vehicle problems.
Mr. Workman, 26, said he worked at a family-owned repair shop for 10 years before joining the GM center.
He said he likes the service center concept: ``I work on cars, I take care of customers, I do whatever I need to do. We're not the dealership. We want to be your hometown service center that you trust.''