by: Karen Brune Mathis Editor – Owner Mario Murgado says he invested $20 million to bring the dealership to town because of the opportunity.
Instead, a putting green is near the front door and a large lawn chess set is in front of the Maserati and Alfa Romeo side of the South Jacksonville development.
Inside, natural lighting, soft music, comfortable seating and quiet offices surround the showroom of Bentley models that start at more than $200,000.
“Hopefully when you walk through here, you feel good about it,” said owner Mario Murgado during a visit Aug. 14.
Miami-based Murgado Automotive Group Inc. quietly opened the Bentley dealership June 18 at 7137 Bonneval Road.
Murgado, president and CEO, said when he pursued the Jacksonville dealership, there were just 35 Bentley stores in the country selling the luxury British automobiles.
He also realized there were 32 NFL teams, including the Jacksonville Jaguars, among 50 states.
Murgado said he shared his vision with Mayor Lenny Curry, City Council members and others.
“I’ll build you something that I think you’ll be very proud of and something that’ll say, ‘Jacksonville’s arrived also in the automotive world.’”
Murgado chose the site because of its strategic location at Butler Boulevard and Interstate 95.
He said he invested $20 million in the project, a two-story, 49,000-square-foot dealership on property he bought.
Murgado expects to open the Maserati and Alfa Romeo side of the dealership in September. He said the employee count is 25 and will reach about 70.
While Bentley is a luxury British car, Maserati and Alfa Romeo are racing-history Italian brands that are owned by FCA, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
Murgado said he chose Jacksonville because of opportunity.
He found there were close to 45 Bentley owners in the area and indications that “many more” buyers would be interested.
Focus studies asked, why have you not considered this car?
“Well, we don’t have one,” he said of a Bentley dealership.
Murgado said Bentley buyers would find the nearest dealers in Atlanta and Orlando.
That meant people with the resources to buy a Bentley would have to take time from their businesses or pursuits to spend hours on travel.
A recent visit to the Jacksonville dealership found that customers can check out a $389,015 Mulsanne Speed in the showroom, along with several other models that range from $217,290 for a Bentayga Hybrid SUV in Dragon Red to $287,130 for a Continental GT Convertible in Beluga (black).
“There’s a culture about these cars,” Murgado said.
Buyers don’t consider them just transportation.
“They buy this because there’s a heritage behind it, there’s a tradition behind it. And they want to be part of that, and they want to enjoy it. It’s a fine automobile,” he said.
Murgado said that extends to creating a relationship about where they buy and service the cars.
“Those things are all important to them. And I think it’s very hard, if you don’t have a local dealer, to be able to service you and take care of you that way.”
Murgado has another Bentley dealership in Edison, New Jersey.
As of Aug. 14, the Jacksonville dealership filled eight orders, of which at least six were preorders, he said.
His goal is to sell five a month, or 60 a year, although sales are below projections.
“I feel confident that we can build that. I feel confident that the community will answer and respond to that,” Murgado said.
The COVID-19 pandemic concerns a lot of people, he realizes.
“It’s our job to be respectful of that and to be thoughtful about that. I don’t want to be looked upon that I’m pushing or trying to sell something,” he said.
“I want this to be a great experience for anyone who wants to buy. So when it’s the right time for you, I want you to have great enjoyment in buying this vehicle.”
TJ Samhouri is the general manager of the Jacksonville dealerships. He said the sales territory stretches into South Georgia and the Savannah area.
Bentley test drives are available, but Samhouri said the goal is to keep the mileage low. “We can do test drives but we try to not put so many miles on it,” he said.
While the Maserati and Alfa Romeo side of the facility is not yet open for sales, there are cars in the showroom.
The Maserati and Alfa Romeo showrooms recently featured Alfa Romeos starting at $42,000 to $52,000 and Maseratis at more than $80,000.
There also are pre-owned cars available, including Bentleys.
There will be more construction. An outdoor three-level car stacker will be lit with LED lighting, and Murgado would like to put a water feature in the pond facing I-95.
Inside the Bentley dealership, customers can comfortably watch their vehicles being serviced from a plush seating area.
A configuration area allows buyers to choose paint, carpet, veneer and leather features.
“Bentley is willing to do what you want them to do,” Samhouri said. “You can build a car from scratch.”
Once ordered, the vehicle will be built in Crewe, England, and delivered in four to six months.
Samhouri said buyers have several options – cash, financing and leasing.
When it arrives, buyers are brought to the delivery area where the car is unveiled.
The second floor includes offices, a conference room, training space and an employee lunchroom for the sales and office teams. Technicians have lunchrooms on the first floor by their areas.
Murgado has an office for his visits once or twice a month.
Sales and service hours are Monday-Saturday.
Murgado Automotive Group’s website shows 17 franchises in Miami, Stuart and Jacksonville in Florida, and in Chicago and in Edison.
In addition to Bentley, Maserati and Alfa Romeo, the dealerships include Audi, Ferrari, Cadillac and other brands.
Murgado came to the U.S. alone just days before his 4th birthday as a Cuban exile immigrant in the freedom flights of 1966. His father joined him months later.
He grew up in a Chicago suburb and the family moved to Miami in 1978. In 1981 he took a job as a car salesman and built his business from there.
Murgado, 57, said Jacksonville is a big city with a small-town feel.
“I feel optimistic. I feel encouraged. I think we’re going to do well if we do all the right things,” he said.
“We have to deliver on what we promise. We have to deliver on our services. We have to deliver on the quality. And if we do that I think Jacksonville will be very receptive.”