COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - As a U.S. Naval aviator who survived three World War II crashes, a young Phil Long brought the lessons of his lucky-to-be-alive experience to the auto sales business in Colorado Springs, CO.
In 1945, Colorado Springs was a small resort and military town at the foot of Pike's Peak, a town poised for growth that would accompany establishment nearby of the Air Force Academy.
Mr. Long's father, Merlin Long, had been assigned by the Doenges dealer-ships of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, OK, to take over a struggling Ford dealership in downtown Colorado Springs - and Phil at age 27 happily relocated to Colorado to revitalize the dealership. (Ford Motor Co. had almost crashed itself in 1945.)
Phil Long Ford (now officially dubbed Phil Long Ford Motor City) has grown in 55 years to one of the most respected dealership networks in the U.S., pioneering in customer-satisfaction practices, no-hassle pricing, "VALU" used-vehicle superstores and state-of-the-art Internet selling and service-connecting.
Mr. Long, at age 82, is retired. The 14-store network's general manager, Jay Cimino, carries on the traditions established by Mr. Long even as the "Phil Long" brand keeps growing in the Denver and Colorado Springs markets.
"We've become even more customer-focused," says Mr. Cimino, 64, a 25-year Long veteran, "as we've added Kia, Hyundai and DaimlerChrysler franchises. We put all the stores on the MyCarPage.com Web site Aug. 1 so as to let our customers track their vehicles' histories and schedule all their service needs online.
"That concept fits in perfectly with what the Long dealerships have practiced for half-a-century. Which is why Phil became one of only two Ford dealerships to get a second location in a single metro market - Colorado Springs - and why we were one of only two Ford dealers to land a Saturn franchise 10 years ago."
The flagship Phil Long Ford Motor City dealership finished 1999 with gross revenues of $135.7 million. The dealership retailed 3,412 new and 3,203 used units last year. That's a strong showing for a market with an approximate population of 500,000, counting the huge Army base at Fort Carson and the Air Force Academy.
While the Phil Long Ford store in suburban Littleton, serving metropolitan Denver, outsells the flagship location in Colorado Springs in new units, the older point gives Denver a tough race in used-car, parts and service sales.
It posted parts sales in 1999 of $6.5 million and service revenues of $4.4 million. Those tallies would be welcome by top metro market dealerships anywhere.
In addition, Long's second Colorado Springs Ford dealership adds substantially to the Ford numbers in the Chapel Hills district. Formerly called Academy Ford, Phil Long Ford Chapel Hills is 15 miles from its big brother.
Bob Fenton, 53, joined the Phil Long organization in 1975 and is now general manager of the flagship store in in Colorado Springs. "I see nothing but more growth for the flagship dealership and our 13 other dealerships," he says.
So far, says Mr. Fenton, the fear that most online shoppers would balk at coming to the dealership for delivery of their new units has not been experienced at Phil Long dealerships, nor has the Internet been a "margin eliminator."
"Our three Saturn stores in Colorado Springs and Denver taught us to price realistically and made us more customer-friendly throughout the organization," he adds.
"We stopped promising no-haggle, because out here there's a frontier liking for negotiating, but absence of hassling has become what we always gave our customers and what they now expect."