Mitchell Auto Group is expanding onto Hartford’s “Auto Row.”
HARTFORD – The aroma of roasting coffee beans at the former Baronet’s coffee plant on Weston Street will soon be replaced by another: the “new car” smell.
Mitchell Auto Group of Simsbury and Canton is nearing the completion of a $9 million renovation of the plant and will relocate its luxury Land Rover SUV franchise to Hartford’s “Auto Row” from the Farmington Valley.
“It was funny, when we first started, for the first two, three months, you could still smell the coffee,” Dave Tefft, managing general partner at the auto group, said.
The relocation marks the first time Mitchell Auto has relocated one of its franchises to Hartford from the Farmington Valley, where it was founded in Simsbury in 1922.
The move was pushed by Land Rover’s British manufacturer, Jaguar. Jaguar, a division of India’s Tata Motors, saw Hartford as more centrally located with better highway access, Tefft said.
“Most importantly, all the manufacturers want to be next to the other manufacturers,” Tefft said. “So Mercedes is here. BMW is here. So, we should be here.”
The renovation is the latest upgrade to the city’s Auto Row. In June, New Country BMW of Hartford debuted a new $5 million dealership. The 39,000square-foot showroom includes three customer lounges, a coffee bar and a retail display of BMW lifestyle accessories and clothing.
The relocation also ups the competitive ante on Auto Row, adding another luxury motor vehicle brand to BMW and others such as Jaguar and Cadillac.
Mark Mitchell, co-owner of Mitchell Auto and grandson of its
founder, said Land Rover has required specific design elements of the new showroom, all aimed at emphasizing a high-end image for the brand.
Those elements include a $15,000 main entrance outfitted in walnut and outdoor walkways made of imported crushed English granite and individual indoor bays where customer can pick up newly purchased vehicles, eliminating a walk through the parking lot.
Connecticut’s franchise laws allow for car manufacturers to require dealerships to make upgrades every decade to project a fresh image for the brand.
Mitchell purchased the building at the end of 2016 for $3 million, according to city records, and it is spending the balance of the $9 million on renovations. The new showroom is expected to open in late February or early March.
Mitchell’s relocation of its Land Rover franchise from Canton represents a significant expansion — increasing its showroom, sales and service space by nearly six times to 30,000 square feet.
The auto group will be able to showcase 12 vehicles instead of two, and it will have 18 service bays instead of eight. Mitchell will also expand its hiring — mostly in entry-level car servicing jobs — from its current 18 to as many as 63.
The expansion comes nearly a century after Mitchell’s grandfather started the car business in a cow barn in Simsbury. Today, the auto group also sells Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, RAM, Saab, Subaru, Volkswagen and Volvo in six locations in the Farmington Valley and Windsor.
Mitchell said the expansion did not come without careful consideration — and some nerves.
“It’s a huge leap of faith on our behalf that we are doing the right thing,” Mitchell said. “It does show our confidence in the market.”
Tefft estimates that Mitchell will sell or lease 50 new and used Land Rovers in November, a total he sees as doubling for the same month in the new, larger location in Hartford.
Even with sticker prices for new Land Rovers ranging from $35,000 to $150,000, Tefft sees a robust market, notwithstanding a gyrating stock market and forecasts of a rising — yet still low — probability of recession in the next two years.
“The biggest part with this franchise is that it’s got cachet,” Tefft said.
In the Hartford area, Tefft said the franchise has a lot of clients from ESPN as well as other Hartford “celebrities.”
He adds: “As long as Tom Brady is driving one, as long as the Housewives of Orange County are driving one, and as long as you see them on TV with all the celebrities, yeah, we have confidence.”
Mark Mitchell, coowner of Mitchell Auto Group, at left, and Dave Tefft, managing general partner, in what will be the showroom of their Land Rover dealership in Hartford.