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From left Hoffman Del Grande Carbone and Boeckmann all children of dealers who followed in their parents footsteps
<p><strong>From left, Hoffman, Del Grande, Carbone and Boeckmann, all children of dealers who followed in their parents footsteps.</strong></p>

Car Dealers’ Offspring Discuss How to Keep It Together

Only 4% of family-run dealerships make it to the fourth generation.

NEW ORLEANS – Bradley Hoffman’s family dealership group has beaten the long-shot odds.

It’s on its fourth generation of kin working there, and still functioning well. Only 4% of family-run dealerships make it to the fourth generation, says Erin Kerrigan of Kerrigan Advisors, a firm that tracks the buying and selling of dealerships.

Hoffman and his brother are third-generation dealers. As partners, they’ve made a go of it, even though their father, who died 20 years ago, “did a lousy job on succession planning,” Hoffman says at a J.D. Power Automotive Summit conference discussion. It centers on the challenges of multi-generational involvement in family-owned dealerships.

Hoffman says he and his brother, co-chairmen of the 9-franchise Hoffman Auto Group based in Connecticut, agree on business matters about 90% of the time. “When we disagree, we go in the back room and club each other. We take turns winning.”

The fourth generation at the dealership group includes three cousins. Before signing on there, they followed a family rule: Work somewhere else first.

“One of my nephews worked on Wall Street, another worked as an attorney and my son worked for Penske (Automotive dealership group),” says Hoffman, who initially had no plans of working in auto retailing when he got out of college.

The 2015 chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers Assn. offers a couple of tips on how to keep a family dealership from becoming a dysfunctional family business.

  • “Know your kids; what they are and aren’t good at,” Hoffman says.
  • Do due diligence on shareholder agreements. “Ours get modified over and over. It has evolved to provisions on retirement and succession planning.”

Enessa Carbone says her father and uncle complemented each other in running the upstate New York-based Carbone Dealership Group. One brother was a bit more dominant than the other, but they made it work.

The next generation to come aboard consisted of Carbone (an attorney who graduated from Georgetown University), her two brothers and a cousin.

“We had four visions, but they weren’t the same visions,” she says. “The challenge was to blend the four into one. We had to work through ownership and who’d pay what.”

The growth curve of the Carbone auto group in some respect altered its basic nature, she says. “At some point you aren’t running dealerships as much as you are operating a big company. Having a business degree helps.”

Last year, publicly owned Lithia Motors, No.7 on the WardsAuto Megadealer 100, purchased Carbone. The transaction represents Medford, OR-based Lithia’s increased presence in the eastern U.S.

Rather than being melded into Lithia, the Carbone group is a platform with semi autonomy.

“It’s been the best of both worlds,” says Carbone, who now holds the title of platform vice president. “Lithia has encouraged us to expand the Carbone group. It was the right move for us.”

She sees a dim future for small dealerships in general, saying, “Friends who are small businesspeople are having trouble coming up with the money to invest in all the modern technology and digital initiates that big dealerships are investing in.”  

Shaun Del Grande says he had “a relatively easy succession” as the second-generation dealer principal of the Del Grande Auto Group based in San Jose, CA. It is No.61 on the WardsAuto Megadealer 100 with 14 stores and revenues of $923.3 million.

The younger Del Grande is another example of a dealer kid who didn’t want to become a dealer, became one nonetheless and then went on to supercharge the enterprise. Many people in the industry describe Shaun Del Grande as an all-star.

“My dad did a great job setting me up to succeed,” he says, referring to his attending the National Automobile Dealers Assn.’s Dealer Academy and regularly participating in 20-Group benchmarking sessions.

Del Grande credits his father for “allowing me to make mistakes and being there to catch me. It finally reached a point where my dad was ready to hand the reins over, saying, ‘There can only be one chief.’”

Beau Boeckmann is the president of North Hills, CA-based Galpin Auto Group, a 7-dealership operation. It was founded by his father Bert, an industry legend who started out as a salesman at Galpin Ford, eventually bought it and made it the world’s top-selling Ford store for 20 years running.

Despite the size of Galpin Motors (No.52 on the WardsAuto Megadealer 100 with total revenue of more than $1 billion), the patriarch “still thinks like a small dealer, because he was one,” says the son. “He has a servant mentality when it comes to customers.”

The younger Boeckmann oversees Galpin’s day-to-day business, but his father, who serves as chairman, is there five days a week and takes home paperwork on the weekends.

“My dad is still boss,” says Beau Boeckmann. “I am there to help and support him in any way I can.”

Auto retailing is incredibly complicated, “and to me that is part of the fun,” he says. “But it is not everyone’s idea of fun.”

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