Business

Carmax brings 300 new jobs to JoCo. It’s a sign of how much car buying has changed

Used car giant Carmax is bringing 300 jobs to Olathe, but not at a traditional car dealership.

The company on Wednesday will officially open a second “customer experience center” — its second in the nation — where employees provide online and phone support for customers purchasing vehicles. In essence a virtual car lot, the centralized operation allows buyers to complete as much of the car purchasing process as they like before visiting a dealership.

Online sales continue to reshape the entire retail industry — a trend that Carmax leaders say has not spared the auto industry.

“We do think customers want to make their purchases differently,” said Terry Glass, a regional vice president overseeing the Olathe office for the Richmond, Virginia-based company. “It’s a natural evolution.”

Local officials and company officials will celebrate the new office during a Wednesday morning ribbon cutting ceremony.

Glass said Carmax has already hired about 200 people and plans to hire 100 more for the Olathe office, which is just west of Interstate 35 on West 119th Street. The company says employees can earn up to $22 per hour there. About one-third of the jobs are reserved for bilingual staffers, who will earn a higher pay rate.

The chain has opened another customer experience center outside of Atlanta and plans to soon add another on the West Coast. The new offices allow the brand to move some of the labor force away from dealerships, though Glass said that process was happening organically without layoffs.

In Olathe, employees will help customers with everything from car specs to financing plans. And customers can choose to have their new ride delivered or pick it up at any brick-and-mortar Carmax dealership.

As more and more car buying moves to the internet, Glass said Carmax wants to remain competitive. But it’s also staying flexible: Customers can choose an entirely online experience, never stepping foot on a car lot. Or they can test drive the car and complete the whole process at a dealership — or choose something in between.

That’s different from online-only companies like Carvana, where customers choose their car on the company’s website but pick it up at a car vending machine. Carvana opened Missouri’s first such vending machine in May with an 8-story glass tower between I-35 and Southwest Boulevard.

“We know for sure that customer shopping habits continue to evolve,” Glass said. “Our research suggests customers may want the ability to do more on their own. This new experience empowers customers to shop on their terms and take delivery the way they want to take delivery.”

Carmax operates two Kansas City-area dealerships: one in Merriam and another in Independence.

The new operation occupies the former office space of insurance provider AIG. Tim McKee, CEO of the Olathe Chamber of Commerce, said the city competed with others across the wider region to win the project.

“The neat thing for Olathe and Kansas City is that this is new to Kansas City,” he said. “They’re not relocating from somewhere else. All of these jobs are brand new to the city of Olathe and the Kansas City region, for that matter.”

McKee said Carmax received no local incentives for the project, but has been pledged state support from the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Agency spokesman Ryan Brinker said no agreements were finalized. But the firm may qualify for the state’s withholding tax incentive program, an income tax credit program, a sales tax exemption and a personal property tax exemption.

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Joe Marquez, of Shawnee, Kansas, looks under the hood as he shops for a used car at the Carmax lot in Merriam, Kansas, in this 2005 AP file photo. File photo by Charlie Riedel The Associated Press
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Kevin Hardy covers business for The Kansas City Star. He previously covered business and politics at The Des Moines Register. He also has worked at newspapers in Kansas and Tennessee. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas
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