When King's Toyota built its 68,000 square-foot new car showroom -- the largest Toyota showroom in the US -- across the street from its existing facility in Ohio last summer, a new wireless voice over IP (VoIP) system from Spectralink was so integral to the expansion that the date of the opening depended in part on when the voice system would be ready.

The main issue, says general manager Gerry Carmichael, is that the new site is an expansion rather than a replacement. The old building remains as the used car showroom and repair facility.

"Salespeople move back and forth between them during the day, and if a customer calls we need to be able to find them," Carmichael said.

That, therefore, is the first business driver for the VoIP decision. But why VoIP rather than cellular? "I can't put cell calls through my switchboard. The VoIP system works with our existing switchboard and voicemail, so I can reach a sales or service person by dialling his extension, and he can get his voicemail messages between customer meetings."

The third key driver of VoIP is, "it unchains my sales people from their desks. Before we instituted the VoIP system, if a salesperson was waiting for an important call he had to stay in his office; he couldn't watch the lot for me. Now he can do both."

Actually, the salespeople no longer have offices. Instead the new facility is almost all show floor, maximising sales space. As any retailer knows, maximising selling floor space in a store is vital to success and sufficient business reason in itself for a technology investment. "We have 150 new Toyotas on the floor," Carmichael says. They are arranged with round tables near them so "when a customer finds the right car, she can sit down right next to it with the salesperson to discuss it."

The fourth business driver is the need for quiet. "A sales environment needs to be reasonably quiet and free of distractions, and we had constant paging going on over the loud speaker system. And our switchboard was being overloaded." The VoIP system has practically eliminated the need for pages and streamlined the switchboard, relieving the problem there. When a salesperson sits down with a customer and doesn't want to be interrupted, he can turn his phone off. When he is finished with the sale, he can turn it back on and get his voicemail.

The fifth business driver is the need to streamline internal communications. With salespeople constantly on the move between the two facilities, finding a specific salesperson would be a challenge without wireless communications. With VoIP, all a sales manager need do is dial the person's extension.

Sixth, King's has put its service reps on the VoIP system as well, allowing them to walk onto the garage floor to discuss progress on a customer's repair while the customer is on the phone, improving customer service.

Seventh, it supports call forwarding, allowing salespeople to forward their calls to their cell phones and dial in for their voicemail from home on their days off. "In our business, being available is everything," Carmichael says. "If you have been working with a customer for a week and they call you with the one question that will get you the sale on your day off, and they can't get you but they can get your competitor, you miss the sale."

So has it worked? "Our sales are up 48 percent since we opened the new showroom on July 28," says Carmichael. "I have a hot product and a beautiful facility, so I can't credit VoIP for all of that, but it has made my staff more available, freed everybody up to spend more time on the floor selling, and improved customer service, so I think it definitely has played an important part."