Marketing The Motor Mile

April 23, 2007
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PLAINFIELDTOWNSHIP — Building on a combined investment of nearly $10 million, a group of competing car dealerships is marketing its one-mile stretch of

Plainfield Avenue
as the region's premier destination to shop for an automobile.

Seven dealerships representing 13 brands line the strip of

Plainfield Avenue
4 Mile Road
5 Mile Road
— from Kool Chevrolet (
3770 Plainfield Ave. NE
) to Pfeiffer Lincoln Mercury (
4140 Plainfield Ave. NE
) — that is now being marketed as "The Plainfield Motor Mile."

"I think people have forgotten about Plainfield," said Tom Makarewicz, operations manager and owner of K&M Northfield Dodge, Sprinter & Suzuki at 4100 Plainfield Ave. NE. "The dealers here are working together to give people a reason to shop Plainfield."

Even with construction of the

Jupiter Street
extension from Plainfield to
West River Drive
, the corridor has lost ground to developing retail areas on
Northland Drive
, Alpine Avenue and East Beltline on KentCounty's north side and to rapid development south of Grand Rapids. At one point this decade, the one-mile corridor boasted a half-million square feet of vacant commercial frontage.

"The traffic and population have shifted more to the south side of town in the last few years," Makarewicz said. "There is a lot of new development going on down there — the South Beltline, the new mall — and if people are going to shop for an automobile, we want to keep them on our side of town."

At what dealership the term "Motor Mile" originated is unknown, but the current joint marketing initiative began with a conversation three years ago between John Flikkema III, owner of Van Andel-Flikkema Chrysler and Jeep at

3844 Plainfield Ave. NE
, and Mary Gezon, owner of Gezon Mitsubishi, Nissan and Volkswagen at
3985 Plainfield Ave. NE.

"He said that he had been using 'Plainfield Motor Mile' in his advertising, and I thought, 'We should all be doing that!'" recalled Gezon.

Gezon acquired the domain name, and over the following year, the dealerships worked with a Detroit-area advertising firm to create a campaign for the mile: "Plainfield Motor Mile: It's All Right Here."

Also represented in the mile are Tony Betton & Sons Ford at

3839 Plainfield Ave. NE
, and Kool Toyota at
3780 Plainfield Ave. NE
, a separate entity from the neighboring Kool Chevrolet dealership.

Although this is the first time the dealerships have collaborated in an ongoing advertising campaign, joint marketing existed in some form through much of the 1980s and 1990s. During that period, the dealerships hosted annual and semiannual "tent sales" offsite at the NorthKentMall

"The original intention was just to bring people to the motor mile, to make people who are not from the north end aware of what we have here," said Van Andel-Flikkema's Diana Yope, who has managed the program and served as a liaison between the dealerships, the advertising agency and Plainfield Township. "There is this huge variety in this little space. … As much as we would like you to buy a Chrysler or Jeep, and (Kool Toyota) would like you to buy a Toyota, we want even more for you to know that

28th Street
is not your only option."

Against the region's largest dealership corridor — the 14 miles of

28th Street
Plainfield Avenue
could have some distinct advantages. Density is an obvious strength, Yope said, as is the lack of traffic congestion. More difficult to quantify is the difference in culture between the two strips.

"It's a different feeling here," said Gezon, noting that all of the dealerships are in the same municipality and school district. "It's Ozzie and Harriet, whereas

28th Street
can be more like Ozzie Osborne."

Roughly half of the dealers on the mile are either in the midst of or have recently completed an expansion or renovation. Kool Toyota recently completed a multimillion dollar project at its new location on the south end of the mile; it relocated from a spot north of the former NorthKentMall. K&M is currently converting the long vacant NorthKentTheater at

4180 Jupiter Ave. NE
into a sales office for its new Suzuki dealership.

Gezon is in the midst of a $2 million renovation and expansion of its facility, updating its showrooms to match the manufacturers' new brand images and doubling the size of its service facilities. Van Andel-Flikkema finished a $3 million renovation and expansion in 2005.

Now, with the former North Kent Mall site entirely redeveloped and the recent announcement that Meijer Inc. will build a new store on the site of its aging 3757 Plainfield Ave. NE location, the dealerships are playing a key role in revitalizing Plainfield Township's original commercial corridor.

"Seeing their investment encouraged us to set up the newly approved Plainfield Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority," said Township Manager Robert Homan. "You can't really talk about

Plainfield Avenue
without talking about the dealers."

Yope and Makarewicz both sit on the authority's advisory board.    

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