Serra Investing for the Future: Construction expected to end in 2020

Serra Traverse City is one year into a multi-year renovation/construction of its auto dealerships on Garfield Road in Traverse City.

Managing partner Jerry Zezulka said the projects began in August of 2016 and won’t be finished until sometime in 2020.

“We started with a 36,000 square-foot service center on the South campus. The service center, which houses Subaru, Cadillac, VW and Audi with 30 bays, opened August 2017. Then we went right into the second project, the Audi/Volkswagen building, 9,500 square feet. That was completed in March 2018. Days after that, we started on the new Toyota building,” said Zezulka.

That building will encompass 40,000 square feet.

“Once the Toyota building is completed we’ll go into another project,” he added, noting that the company is in talks with both Volvo and Nissan to determine how and when to move forward there.

Zezulka is co-executive manager – along with Jim Tuohy – of the former Traverse Motors and Cherry Capital auto dealerships, which were purchased by Serra Automotive from long-time owner Otto Belovich in 2015.

He said the reasons for the renovation and new construction include the desire to appeal to consumers, requirements of the brands the company carries and necessary upgrades.

“The buildings were in pretty poor shape. We had to be sure the buildings were [redone] to their standards,” he said.

Manufacturers typically also insist on separate buildings for separate brands.

The company is looking at another two years of construction at least to finish the renovation. The Toyota building is not due to be completed until spring of 2019.

“Then we’ll decide what’s next. We have no definite plans other than we know we’ll continue to move on,” said Zezulka, a 30-year veteran of retail automotive sales.

Zezulka said the investment is customer-focused.

“We feel we need to do it to accommodate our customers and the sales, service and body shops,” he said. “It’s all about the customers.”

Serra Automotive, owned by Joe Serra and based in Grand Blanc, Mich., ranks No. 19 on the Automotive News list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S. According to its website, Serra Automotive operates in seven states and employs over 2,000 people. The network includes 41 dealerships and represents 53 automotive franchises. It also ranks among the top 10 privately held retail automotive groups in the nation.

While it’s unusual for a single dealership to represent so many brands, Zezulka said that gives more customers a reason to stop in.

“Having seven lines is advantageous,” he said. “Each brand has its followers.”

Zezulka said the dealership’s used cars are its best sellers. The ratio of used to new fluctuates, but is typically around 55 percent of sales for used vehicles, 45 percent new vehicles. With any brand welcome as a trade-in, he said the dealership can accommodate someone who wants a Ford or Chevy as well as a Nissan or VW.

Zezulka said the Traverse City operation employs approximately 180 people, a number he expects will remain fairly stable. He said the company’s investment in its infrastructure also provides for continuing employment for its workers.

“We’re investing in [the] community,” he said.