The pandemic rocked the automotive world, and returning to day-to-day business is still a work in progress. Sales and services within dealerships are some of the most intensive customer-facing interactions in any industry, making it all the more difficult to navigate the changes brought about by the pandemic. Each part of the dealership faces its own unique set of challenges. As employees and customers move throughout the space, make sure that each area is sanitary, safe, and ready to create a great sales experience.

Making these simple design changes to your dealership will create a safer and more welcoming environment that will result in customers feeling much more comfortable in this new normal. 

Sales and Finance Department Desks

Aside from a test drive, the most direct experience a customer has is inherently dangerous: sitting face-to-face with their salesperson or finance manager. When proximity is unavoidable, use plexiglass to create a physical barrier without sacrificing the importance of face-to-face conversation. These partitions come in an ever-expanding variety of sizes and styles. Easily movable partitions with built-in stands are a common choice for executive desks, however there are also thin-profile panels that can be mounted to the desktop with a temporary adhesive. The options are endless and the security is invaluable.

Waiting Areas

When you put strangers in the same area together, you're going to need to take extra precautions so COVID-19 best practices are seamlessly integrated with your space to ensure social distancing. Creating your ideal layout starts with removing any excess seating, opting to put this overflow into storage for later use. Space out most chairs and save a few multi-person areas for couples or families. From there, create a physical barrier between chairs using end tables or plants to deter guests from physically moving any furniture.

If you are building out a new waiting area from scratch, look for seating that utilizes vinyl or polyurethane upholstery. Fabric is particularly difficult to clean and often retains pathogens for longer than its synthetic counterparts. These days, manmade leather alternatives come in a stunning variety of textures and colors, often making them mimic the look of fabrics or leathers without the hazard or price tag.

Going beyond furniture, these areas are often equipped with small amenities, such as a beverage bar, soda cooler, or a simple magazine rack. These high-touch areas are significantly riskier than they seem and should be moved out of the space or deemed off-limits until restrictions are fully lifted and threat levels are low. Replace any magazines or materials on tables with a bottle of hand sanitizer to allow guests to maintain good hand hygiene.

Reception Desks

Your entryway sets the tone for the entire customer experience. As guests enter the building, ensure that their first interaction is met with a clear acrylic partition between themselves and any reception or cashiering staff. This is also a logical place to display any COVID rules that are specific to your location, such as policies on masking, sanitizing, and waiting within the space. Ensure that you have a bottle of sanitizer and a box of disposable masks for those who forgot to bring one and be ready to explain any safety protocols to guests who have questions.

If you choose to control traffic throughout the dealership, start in the reception area and use floor-mounted decals, standing signs, and crowd control ropes to designate the way that everybody should navigate the area. This goes beyond customers; employees benefit from the same COVID restrictions and these uniform rules ensure the safety of everybody within the space.

Service Stations

While these areas have large garage doors and significant airflow, this is still a point of customer interaction that can't be ignored. Invest in additional plexiglass partitions that fit on any desks or stations that are customer-facing, including those with pass-through windows to exchange any paperwork or money. In areas where customers may be exiting or entering their cars, provide a stand with disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer, encouraging them to wipe down any handles or surfaces while ending with a squirt of sanitizer. 

Making these simple design changes to your dealership will create a safer and more welcoming environment that will result in customers feeling much more comfortable in this new normal. 

Tonya Dybdahl is a space planning and design assistant manager for National Business Furniture.