City International is the new model for the company's 1,000 dealers When Kirk Plagman began rebuilding his City International Trucks dealership in 1999, it was no accident that he started with the service center. A 28-year veteran of International Truck & Engine Corp., Plagman left the comfort and security of being vice president of the company's $250-million used truck business in July '99 to become the president and principal owner of City International, located just outside of Chicago.

Originally opened in 1975 under the old International Harvester logo, City International was badly in need of an overhaul. Plagman started the reconstruction process in the service center for an important reason: It would be the key component in winning and keeping future business.

"We asked ourselves what it would take to support our customers for the next 10 to 12 years," Plagman said at a press conference at his dealership in August. "We needed to build better functionality into our support system, while also broadening our ability to support a wider range of customers."

"This is more than a restructured building or a redesigned dealership," said Steve Keate, president of International's truck group. It's a one-stop shop that "makes it easy for customers not only to get the right truck for their business, but keep it on the road and make more money."

Plagman began by replacing two inches of concrete on the service bay floor, then covering it with three layers of epoxy. The walls and sides of the bays were degreased and repainted. The locker room for the facility's 70 service technicians was completely refurbished, letting the technicians know how important they are to the success of the business.

A separate office for Idealease, International's leasing partner, was built, along with a glass-walled driver lounge, complete with a big screen TV and five Internet-ready workstations.

The 45,000-sq.-ft. facility now boasts a total of 39 maintenance bays. Eight are drive-in body shop bays, two are devoted to vehicle painting, and one is dedicated to front-end alignments and dynamometer testing. That helps put the dealership in a better position to service more customers, said Plagman.

"Whether customers own 10 or 100 trucks, they have just five questions when it comes to repairs: What's the diagnosis? What's the estimate? When did you start the repair? How is it progressing? When can we pick it up?" Plagman said. "If we can answer those questions better and faster, we're where we need to be."

Dealers are also increasing their focus on service because customers are demanding more support, said Ron Garvins, heavy truck consultant for American Truck Dealers.

The creation of more luxurious driver lounges and other amenities will also play a critical role. "That's the calling card for a dealership," he said. "Drivers will go an extra 200 or 300 miles if they know they can not only get quick service, but have access to amenities like free showers, Internet terminals, etc. That's an integral piece to the building and refurbishment of new dealerships."