By 1995, Benoit and his brothers were looking to expand.
"Property at the time was big money, and to buy prime real estate in a prime spot wasn't really an option then," Benoit said. So he bought a dealership that had sat vacant for seven years — and got his big break. "Subaru was going around looking for anybody to take the franchise," he said.
Four months after Benoit got the franchise in 1995, Subaru launched the 1996 Outback with ads featuring Australian actor Paul Hogan. Sales took off.
Anchor Subaru, in North Smithfield, R.I., thrived. Benoit bought the adjoining property and added a Nissan franchise in 2010.
"Like most dealers, at the time, I thought I was doing the right thing," he said. "Low overhead, sell as many cars as you can, make as much money as you can." But an outdated building was driving some customers away.
In 2013, Benoit realized his 9,500-square-foot Subaru store, built in the 1950s, needed a remodel. It had seven service bays, a cramped showroom and salespeople talking and walking over one another. Benoit didn't want to add franchises for others to run, he wanted to fix up what he had. "I have a Subaru store and a Nissan store. If I've got another 15 to 20 years left in the business, I'm going to make it a little extra special," he recalled thinking. But how?
He hit the road. Over three years, he toured more than 100 dealerships across the U.S. and talked to employees about what they did and didn't like. During business trips or at conferences, others would go to lunch, and Benoit would go to dealerships, taking notes and drawing up floor plans for his future facility.
In New England, an independent distributor stands between dealers and the factory. That meant Benoit didn't clash with the automaker over the facility's design, as dealers often do. He used Subaru's color palettes and size requirements and found that as long as the distributor saw that the tiles and paint he used were appropriate, it didn't rigidly insist he follow Subaru's dictates.
When construction on the new building got underway in March 2016, Benoit immersed himself in it. While on-site, he noticed customers often lined up along the fence on the edge of the construction zone, watching as the 27,000-square-foot building went up.
"I'd walk over to the edge of the fence, and these were my customers, people I'd been doing business with for years," he said. "When I started talking to them, I realized how disconnected I had become in my own business. I'm here every day, but you don't see what you don't see. It was amazing, the feeling I started to get as I was just talking to these people who were so excited" about the new building.
As he spoke with those customers, Benoit became determined to make the customer touch point areas as nice as they could be in the new facility. Those conversations drove specific changes to the plans post-groundbreaking and to Benoit's own approach to work.
"Along the fence, I learned so much about what customers were experiencing coming into the store," he said. "You can read all the CSI surveys you want, but it doesn't give you what you need."
Three-quarters of the facility is dedicated to servicing vehicles. He built a waiting area that now has customers staying well after their cars are finished to complete their work or reading. He built a patio area with timber guardrails for a rustic feel. There's a grassy, outdoor play area for kids as well as a dog park.