A ceremonial groundbreaking for a major auto dealership expansion at 1055 W. Andrew Johnson Highway occurred last week as Gateway Ford Lincoln Nissan launched what owner Lennie Lawson described as more than a physical expansion.
“We’re not just renovating the dealership; we’re renovating the way we do business as well,” Lawson told media representatives, local government leaders, Nissan representatives and others who attended the Thursday morning ceremony directly in front of the existing Gateway showroom.
Lawson, a 42-year veteran of the auto sales business, said the expansion will add about 7,200 square feet in showroom/sales space, plus another 4,000 square feet of service area.
The existing Ford-Lincoln showroom and service areas will remain, but are also being improved in conjunction with the new expansion.
The association of the dealership with Nissan has been in place for more than a year at the dealership, but Nissan wanted a showroom to expand its local presence and visibility, and Lawson said Gateway is “excited” to fulfill that request.
“The advantage to customers is that they’ll be able to buy a vehicle from two powerful manufacturers at one location,” Lawson said.
He noted that Nissan sales at Gateway could double once the construction is finished in about eight months.
“Our goal is to be the number-one Nissan dealer in the region,” Lawson said.
Lawson said further that, as a Greeneville resident himself, he is pleased that the project is a further step in expanding commerce at that west end of U.S. Highway 11E, which in recent months has seen commercial development including a new restaurant, Aubrey’s, and is soon to become a second local site for a regional financial institution.
Lawson said the Highway 11E location is a good site for commerce, with an estimated 35,000 cars a day passing.
The Nissan branch of Gateway will operate independently of the Ford-Lincoln operations, Lawson said. The expansion should add a few new jobs in the sales and service areas at Gateway, he anticipates, but the greatest public benefits from the project will be tax revenues and customer convenience.
Despite being different branches, both Nissan and Ford-Lincoln will have easy common accessibility for online vehicle shoppers through the portal gatewaydeal.com, Lawson noted.
A major shift in the auto sales industry is the increase of online customer research in advance of purchase, and a lessening focus on dealership showroom visits as the initial step in auto purchasing. Lawson said Gateway is constantly seeking to refine its marketing and sales approaches to connect with real-world customer habits.
Lawson, whose father, the late Max Lawson, entered the dealership aspect of the auto business in 1971, today works alongside his own daughters, Abby Lawson, Gateway’s executive manager for Nissan, and Audra Lawson, who works in human resources, title operations and other aspects of the dealership. Max Lawson III, nephew of Lennie Lawson, also is part of the Gateway operation.
Asked what the total cost of the expansion and related improvements will be, Lawson estimated, “all said and done, it’s going to be about $2 million.”
Among Nissan representatives present for the groundbreaking were Brian Bode, fixed operations manager for Nissan, and Steve Shultz, dealer operations manager for Nissan. Bode and Shultz are based in Knoxville but are frequent visitors to Gateway, Abby Lawson said.
Doug Weller of C&C Millwright, builder in the project, was present at the groundbreaking, as were Greeneville and Greene County governmental representatives.