World’s largest auto dealership offers luxury experience in a luxurious setting
Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
Extra. That’s a good way to describe Randall Reed’s Planet Lincoln Dallas Love Field automobile dealership. And we mean “extra” in every good sense of the word.
It starts with “extra large:” Planet Lincoln is the largest automobile dealership in the world, with some 267,000 square feet of showroom space, plus office space and the service area. But the size of the physical space is just the beginning; Planet Lincoln’s staff is dedicated to making sure their customers have a car-buying experience as big and as extra as the facility itself.
For William Stalik, Planet Lincoln’s general sales manager, the word for the dealership is “iconic.” He sees it as a new Oak Lawn icon built on the bones of one of the area’s earliest icons: The old Braniff International Airways headquarters.
Braniff, which began operations at Love Field in 1942, completed construction of the facilities in the 7700 block of Lemmon Avenue in 1958. Braniff stopped flying in 1992, and in 2012 the Braniff Airways Foundation created a preservation group, with the Texas Historical Commission joining in to help with the design process.
Then Randall Reed — himself a rather iconic Texas car dealership owner — then negotiated an agreement with the city to spend $55 million on aviation use and commercial use over the next five years, in exchange for a long-term lease. Reed kept the old Braniff parking garage, which has been converted into Planet Lincoln, while recruiting Dallas developers Lincoln Property Company and Jerry Jones’ Blue Star Land to take over the old Braniff office space and convert it into a commercial and retail space called The Braniff Centre.
Stalik noted that the Planet Lincoln facilities also include, the Reed Center, located behind the main dealership, which houses the corporate headquarters for Reed’s extensive business holdings and for the Light Up to Live Foundation, the charity Reed and his wife Sherry started to provide polychromatic light therapy systems to U.S. military servicemembers and veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, pain and depression and to fund service dogs for veterans with adaptive needs.
Because the buildings are all part of an historically significant site, Stalik said, all of the construction required to turn a 60-plus-year-old building into a modern, high-tech luxury car dealership “has been interesting.” And although the dealership opened at the first of the year, he said, work on the facility still continues, balancing the need to maintain the facility’s historical integrity and at the same time provide the luxury experience Lincoln Motor Company demands for its customers.
Planet Lincoln, Stalik said, is a “vitrine facility.” “Vitrine,” a word which has its roots in Old French, literally means, “A glass-paneled cabinet or case, especially for displaying” art of fine merchandise, and that’s exactly the purpose of this facility, he said.
“Lincoln is very specific” about how Lincoln dealerships present its vehicles, Stalik said, adding that Reed and dealership co-owner William Palasota “wanted every possible option” when it came to the finish out for the facility.
“Anybody can build a dealership,” he said. “We are creating an experience.”
And it begins when you walk in the front door and see the $125,000 granite water wall, with perfectly cut and fitted granite slabs brought in from overseas. It is also evident in the wealth of etched glass windows and walls featuring the outline of the iconic Lincoln logo.
Planet Lincoln is designed to be “like a museum,” Stalik continued. Every piece of art on the wall was carefully chosen to highlight either the history of Lincoln Motor Company or the city of Dallas, Love Field and Oak Lawn.
And then there are the cars — and not just the new ones for sale.
Reed and Palasota have brought in several classic Lincoln cars, one for each decade from the 1930s on. The cars — now safely parked in the service department — will eventually be displayed on the six floors of the parking garage where the cars for sale are parked.
That’s another unique aspect of the Planet Lincoln experience. From the time a customer walks through the front door to the time they drive away in their new Lincoln, they can remain inside, safe from the Texas heat and anything the unpredictable Texas weather might throw their way.
The main floor includes an example of each current Lincoln model, along with lounge areas where customers can chat with brand ambassadors — they aren’t called salesmen or saleswomen here — and with office spaces and an area where products such as caps, jackets, blankets and more are available for purchase.
Once the brand ambassador has a good idea of what the customer is looking for, then they can head out — make that “up” — to check out the available vehicles on the lot — make that “in the garage.” That’s right, all the cars that at another dealership would be out in the open on the lot at Planet Lincoln are in the parking garage. That means that not only are the customers safe from the weather, so are the vehicles. There won’t be any “hail dent” problems here.
And once the customer has chosen their vehicle, they go finish up their paperwork and then head over to one of two specially-designated lounges, complete with a TV on the wall, to wait while their vehicle is readied for them. Then a porter pulls their vehicle into the attached, glass-walled bay where customers can go over all the last-minute details before climbing into the car and driving out of the bay to go on their merry way.
Even those bringing in their vehicles for service get that same start-to-finish pampering, Stalik said. When you arrive, you pull into a bay where the service techs take over. Then you walk through the door into the main lobby, where you find yourself a comfortable lounge area to wait for your vehicle to be ready.
Even better, though, you don’t even have to go to the trouble of bringing your car to the dealership for service. Linda Jervis, Planet Lincoln’s variable operations manager, explained that whenever you purchase a Lincoln from their dealership, your brand ambassador helps you install the Planet Lincoln app on your smartphone. That app, she said, lets you do everything from start the car remotely to schedule an appointment for service and have someone from the dealership come pick up your vehicle, take it in for service and then return it. And you never have to leave home to get it done.
A big part of the Planet Lincoln experience is wrapped up in the luxury of the Lincoln Motor Company automobiles. And although Lincoln is known for high-end luxury vehicles, Stalik said, “There’s a Lincoln for everybody,” from the mid-$30,000 range all the way up to more than $106,000 for a Black Label edition Navigator.
“We have also used cars,” he added. “If somebody is looking for a $10,000 car, we can help them, too.”
In the community, part of the community
One of the advantages of Planet Lincoln’s unique facilities is that the dealership has the opportunity to offer space there to community organizations and agencies to hold meetings and special events. The top floor of the parking garage — with its views not only of the busy airstrips and hangars of Dallas Love Field but the skylines of Dallas, Addison and, on a good day, Fort Worth — would make a perfect location for events, Stalik said.
The general sales manager said Planet Lincoln also wants to be part of the Oak Lawn community. “We don’t just work here, we live here, too. I live here, and Oak Lawn is very near and dear to me,” he said.
One way that the dealership can serve the community is through a charitable giving program Stalik helped create, in which an organization — such as an AIDS/HIV service organization or a school sports team — applies and, once approved, is able to sell raffle tickets at $2 a ticket in a drawing for a new vehicle.
Planet Lincoln will handle all the details — from printing tickets to providing the vehicle and even paying all the associated taxes. All the nonprofit has to do is sell the tickets and keep the money, he explained.
Stalik said that Planet Lincoln staff — from upper management on down — works hard to maintain an environment that creates an outstanding experience for the staff as well as the customers. For all of the amenities built into the dealership for customers, there are just as many amenities built in for employees.
Employees’ comfort and satisfaction is just as important as that of the customers, Stalik said. And happy employees are likely to work harder and stay longer with the company.
The dealership’s upper management team, Stalik said, has several decades of experience in Lincoln sales between them, adding that after years in the car sales business as a salesman and even a shop owner himself, he had been looking for a job that could span the gap to retirement. Now, though, Stalik said he has no plans to retire any time soon.
“Most of us here have known each other for a very long time,” Stalik said of Planet Lincoln’s management team, “even though we weren’t always working together. Mr. Palasota and Mr. Reed took care here to create a staff of like-minded people who understand and believe in the vision of what we are doing here.
“We are a team,” Stalik said. “We are like a family.”
Jervis added, “This is a big place. But we will never get so big that we lose that family/team feeling. I mean, we opened at the first of the year, and then the COVID-19 epidemic hit. But through it all we haven’t furloughed anyone. We haven’t laid anyone off. We have paid people 100 percent of the salary the whole time. And in fact, we are hiring right now.”
When you get right down to it, of course, Planet Lincoln is a business. Businesses have to make money. And a business like this — focused on providing a luxury experience to sell luxury automobiles — needs to make a lot of money.
Still, Stalik said, “There is a difference in being out for profit and being out for blood. We are not out for blood.
“We want to do the right thing, not to look good and not for appearances, but because it is the right thing to do,” he continued. “We believe we can be for profit and still be for our community and for our staff and for our customer. That is our goal.”