RANTOUL — For several years, Shields Auto Center has periodically moved its vehicle inventory to its property in west Rantoul next to Walmart.
The strategy has boosted sales.
In a few months, it will be permanent.
Site preparation began last week for a new Shields Auto Center facility. All Rantoul operations will be moved from the company’s location at 225 S. Meyers St.
"They peeled the first dirt back today," General Manager Rick Shields said last Wednesday. "They put up the plastic barriers and moved some equipment on the lot Monday."
About a month ago, the old Moose lodge building Shields had used in the past as a transportation company and base for the Shields farm operation was demolished.
MCP Midwest Construction Professionals will manage the construction project. Mid Illinois Concrete, Urbana, is doing the dirt and concrete work.
Shields said how soon the project is completed hinges on the severity of the winter weather. It could be completed in late spring.
Shields said the 27,800-square-foot facility will offer more room and will be more efficient than the facility it has operated along U.S. 136 near the railroad tracks for many years.
"We’ll have a service drive-up, which we didn’t have before. We’ll be expanding our quick oil change department," Shields said.
Shields, which employs 26, will likely increase its employee level "to the low 30s," he said, adding he will likely add four more sales people as well as more technicians.
He said the employees have been looking forward to the new digs "for a very long time."
The company had hoped to break ground sooner, but was weighing the merits and the costs, he said.
"We didn’t know if it was going to happen on not," Shields said. "The project ended up much higher than we anticipated what it would be because of the tariffs for steel. Champaign-Urbana in general has been a hot spot for building. I don’t know if that’s what caused (the higher costs), but it’s been pretty pricey."
The company hopes the new center will result in higher sales levels.
"You never know," Shields said. "That’s one of the things we were debating. We would hope we would increase sales probably 30 percent from the increased visibility and all the traffic they have out there.
"We’ll be able to show our inventory better."
He said everything is "jammed up" at the current center, and there is not much customer parking.
Owner Duane Shields said they had to get final approval from Ford and Chrysler before proceeding.
He said earlier this year the new facility will have two showrooms for Ford and Chrysler.
Shields has been in the auto business in Rantoul since he bought out Warren Manley Ford-Chrysler.
He also bought out Hari Motors, which sold Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Cadillac cars in downtown Paxton, and later also bought Lou Wurmnest’s Chevrolet-Buick dealership in west Paxton near the Interstate 57 overpass.
He said the new Rantoul facility will not affect the Paxton dealership.