Veteran dealer Hoot McInerney has done the unheard-of after selling Cadillacs for half of his nearly 60 years in auto retail.
The impending octogenarian and confidante of a bevy of past and present automotive senior executives sold his Cadillac franchise. It had been dualed with Toyota and Scion at a McInerney dealership in Clinton Township, MI, northeast of Detroit.
“I can remember when Cadillac was the No.1 luxury brand and the hottest franchise to buy or acquire in an open point,” says Hoot (real name Martin; the nickname comes from his owlish appearance).
“There's nobody else I know of who was able to pair up Cadillac and Toyota in the same location, but Cadillac has gone flat out on the east side (of suburban Detroit) thanks to Lexus, and we needed the space for Toyota,” he says.
“So I sold Cadillac to multi-brand dealer Jim Riehl, who's putting Cadillac into his new Hummer store. Hummer is suddenly in the pits and Riehl needed something to protect his investment in Hummer.”
McInerney is a legend in Michigan dealer circles, having trained many younger dealers at what now is a 5-store group stretching from a Ford-Lincoln-Mercury point in Port Huron to a Chrysler-Jeep store in Woodhaven, in metro Detroit's downriver area.
“Location is everything in this business,” McInerney says. “You can go broke trying to sell even the top brands like Toyota, Lexus and Ford trucks in the wrong location.”
Family members are active in all the stores, which include Star Lincoln-Mercury in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, where Hoot has his office off the showroom floor.
Other McInerneys, including brother Tom in Woodhaven Chrysler-Jeep and son Robert at the Toyota dealership, all have offices overlooking showrooms. McInerney says that is key to customer relationships.
He made his mark in the industry by befriending top executives and sales chiefs.
His top-level associates include former Ford Motor Co. president and Chrysler Corp. CEO Lee Iacocca; the late General Motors Corp. sales Vice President and Cadillac General Manager Robert Lund (who later became a dealer); one-time Chrysler and former Ford sales chief Ben Bidwell; past GM CEO Jim Roche; and former Chrysler sales chiefs John Naughton and Gar Laux.
Domestic auto makers ran new product ideas and dealer programs by a small group of “inside” dealers that included McInerney, Bob Tasca and Roger Penske.
“These guys trusted us as dealers,” says McInerney.
Hurting metro Detroit luxury-vehicle business are auto-industry cutbacks in management and white-collar personnel, affecting employee-discount sales of Chrysler 300s, Cadillacs and Lincolns.
“Even Toyota (Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.) is taking its lumps, especially in Tundra pickups and Sequoia SUVs,” McInerney says. “But the Scion store next door is going great and I have to congratulate Toyota for being so foresighted.”
McInerney says overcrowded dealer ranks in urban markets should be thinned out. But he warns against going too far, contending dealer loyalty is boosted by stores that aren't selling huge numbers of vehicles.
“Who in their right mind would buy a new car from someone who sells 5,000 vehicles a month?” he asks. “That's why Wal-Mart will never sell cars. They live on volume and not customer service.”
Toyota stores score below average on customer dealership satisfaction. McInerney seems to buck that trend.
Craig Muran, 40, has been general manager at McInerney's Toyota-Scion store for three years, after 17 years working at Toyota dealerships in metro Detroit. Muran has been overseeing expansion of the Toyota and Scion facilities into the space created by the Cadillac departure.
“There's a customer-friendly atmosphere here I've never seen at other Toyota dealerships,” Muran says. “It has a lot to do with great product, obviously, but the fact that we're a McInerney dealership has a lot to do with their loyalty, too.
“Our 35 employees feel the same way. Hoot and his son Bob, my boss here, have a lot of expectations from us and pay us accordingly when we deliver.
“We'll miss Cadillac, but thank heaven Toyota can fill the void.”
Meanwhile, McInereny, as the owner of Star Lincoln Mercury in Southfield, MI, is being sued by Varsity Lincoln Mercury in Novi, MI.
Varsity alleges McInerney mailed letters to 65 of its lease customers, claiming the Novi store was closing its doors. It isn't. McInerney says it was a mistake; the letter meant to say “a” dealership — referring to a Clinton Township store — was closing, not “your” dealership. Varsity says the damage is done.