In the summer of 2015 Ellens Equipment broke ground on its new facility on 20 acres in McBain, Mich., but the process had begun 2 years before that and didn’t come without its challenges.
Knowing that they had outgrown their building in town (along with various other storage facilities in the area), owners Don, Linda and Luke Ellens began touring other dealerships that had been built in the last 5 years. They visited about 20 different dealerships throughout Illinois and Indiana — of all brands — to learn what worked, what didn’t and get a feel for the layout they needed at the new building. “These dealers were amazing. We’d show up and say, ‘We’re going to build a dealership, would you care if we looked around your facility?’ They openly took us into every nook and cranny of their dealership,” Linda says. “We took a lot of pictures and learned from them what to do and what not to do.”
Ultimately, they found a layout they liked and that dealer shared his blueprints with the Ellens, who were then able to bring it to their architect and work on designing the facility from there. While they were moving along with the planning, a big challenge presented itself. One night, Don had a sudden realization, sat up in bed and said, “Oh my gosh, there was an abandoned oil well on that property.”
“He grew up right over there,” Linda says, pointing just across the road. Until that moment, he had forgotten about the well. Upon further investigation, the ground was found to be contaminated.
The State of Michigan handled removing the well and cleaning up the land, but the ordeal set the Ellens back a whole year on the building project, Don says. But, by February 2016 they were able to move in.
The new building is about 3 times the size of the old facility and has plenty of space for expansion both inside and outside the building. In the front of the building, there is room on a second level for additional offices or meeting space. With a larger showroom than before, there’s now a dedicated spot for retail items, like clothing and toys. At the back of the showroom is the parts counter, which the Ellens worked with a local custom cabinetmaker to design. There are 5 separate kiosks, giving each parts employee a dedicated spot to work with customers one-on-one. “They each have their own space, and we got that idea through the questions we asked the other dealers through our tour, that that’s what people like,” Linda says.
Behind the parts kiosks, Ellens installed Stanely Vidmar cabinets for fast moving parts. One of the more unique features at Ellens Equipment is what they call a transition door. When closed, the transition door looks like a regular wall with a standard door for people to walk through. However, the whole wall can be moved to the left. “This lets us bring equipment into the showroom from the service department on the other side,” Linda explains. “We didn’t care for the look of the big garage door we saw at other dealerships. We wanted something a little classier looking.”
In the service department, the features Ellens knew it wanted to include based on their visits with other dealers included a crane, LED lighting, in-floor heat and windows up above to let in additional light. “Everyone we talked to said there are three things you want — in-floor heat, a crane and good light. And it’s amazing the difference it made,” says Don.
“You can come in here after-hours and not turn the lights on, the windows let in a lot of natural light,” Linda adds.
The shop now has room for 18 service bays, giving them plenty of room to work around the big equipment. “At the old place, if we pulled in two choppers and a couple T8s, you couldn’t do anything else without moving everything else back out. The added space makes a huge difference,” Don says.
“It’s all about efficiency. Our efficiency has just gotten so much better because everything is where it needs to be. Everybody is closer together. Our service manager used to be in the back corner of the old shop. He’d have to go all the way back through the service area to get to parts and now he’s right there next to the showroom,” Linda says.
In the parts department, they more than doubled the amount of storage of the old building and now have “double level part storage,” Linda says. The second level, on a mezzanine, has gates that will swing open. The parts staff can pull a forklift over and lift items right up to the other level, she explains.
Room to Grow
Most of the dealers the Ellens visited had 5 acres of land, and each one advised them to get 10 acres to accommodate for future growth. “So we got 20, just to be sure,” Luke says.
The Ellens had learned from their previous experience with building additions. “When we built the old shop in ’99, we thought, ‘We are good for like 30, 40 years.’ Then 5 years later, we’re saying, ‘We should have made it bigger,’” Linda says.
From a customer and sales perspective, the business is continuing to grow. And now with the additional land and available space on the second level of the building, Ellens Equipment’s facility is poised to grow with the business.