Call it Miles Schnaer's crowning achievement.
On June 20, his Crown Toyota dealership and its affiliated operations will move into the 75,000-square-foot former home of Payless Cashways at 3434 Iowa.
Schnaer, who bought Crown Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Toyota in 1994, expects the renovations and upgrades to the building to absorb at least $3.8 million, and that's not including the landscaping, fountains, road changes and the project's other related work, such as improvements to the existing Chevrolet building.
Once the roughly 12-acre site is completed - Schnaer expects a grand opening in late summer or early fall - Crown Toyota will have room for twice as many cars.
The sparkling facility will almost certainly be the only one of its kind, both in Lawrence and the Kansas City area.
"I don't know of anything that big that has created that size of an operation, including an indoor used-car showroom. Nothing that I know of in Kansas City," says Schnaer, 58.
The new home of Crown Toyota will represent a quantum leap in the way that car buyers in this region are used to shopping for new and used vehicles.
"We're wanting to make it an 'automotive experience' more than a dealership. It will be a complete Toyota facility - service, parts, sales - and then there'll be a showroom obviously for new cars, the Toyota-certified body shop will be inside and an indoor used-car operation," Schnaer says.
Another feature likely to set the facility apart from other dealerships is a casual cafe, a place where people can come in and relax, whether they're in the market for a car or not.
The idea is to create an inviting, comfortable and impressive atmosphere for visitors.
"It's an environment that creates a good feeling for a customer to come and do business. I have heard of dealerships that have gone into this concept where people just make this a rendezvous point, they don't even think about cars," Schnaer says.
"They just happen to be in the area - 'Let's stop by Crown and have a cup of coffee,' or 'Let's have lunch, let's hang out.'"
Won prestigious award
Of course, Schnaer would not be disappointed if people who visit the new facility do end up buying a vehicle from Crown Toyota.
His expectation, in fact, is that the dealership will be able to double its new car sales - to 100 cars per month.
"We're going to have so much inventory here - it'll double the inventory levels, at least," Schnaer says.
"Toyota doesn't pay you to renovate buildings; this is my cost. But they do increase your availability, as far as inventory is concerned. More cars, more sales."
Crown Toyota has proven it knows a few things about selling cars and taking care of customers.
It recently won the President's Award for 2004, the highest honor a dealership can receive from Toyota. That's the second time Crown Toyota has received the prestigious award. It also earned it in 2001.
"There's nine dealers out of 80 in the Kansas City region that won it. It's a big deal. It has to do with market penetration, service and customer satisfaction. I'm very excited about it," Schnaer says.
In addition to Crown Toyota earning the President's Award, Schnaer learned in December that he has been elected to the Toyota National Dealers' Advisory Council, where he will represent 80 Toyota dealerships in the Midwest region.
"I'm going to Japan in April to meet with the Toyota executives, take some tours and go through the manufacturing plants. Toyota regards the dealers' opinions very highly - anything that we think would be better and easier to communicate to the customer," Schnaer says.
Doing well by doing good
Playing a visible role in the community represents a big part of Schnaer's philosophy of doing business.
Schnaer, an enthusiastic Jayhawk fan, is a major booster of Kansas University and KU athletics in Lawrence.
In addition, the Crown dealerships sponsor and support the Crown Casting Club, a Lawrence-based fishing group for youth and their parents.
Schnaer co-founded the group with Cecil Kingsley, a professional fisherman who lives in Lawrence.
The club has attracted the participation of about 100 Lawrence-area youngsters, ranging in age from 4 to 15.
The club reeled in a trophy catch of its own last spring, when the Lawrence St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee selected it as the area charitable organization that would receive a $50,000 check to support its good works serving the community's children.
"I've been very fortunate. I was raised in a very giving family that said that if you do the right thing, you'll be rewarded for it. How you're rewarded, you don't know - whether it's health for yourself and your family, business success, whatever it might be," Schnaer says.
"You don't have to be a bad person to be successful. Nice guys can finish first. I'm not trying to make this sound flowery; I just enjoy doing the right thing."