Jumping nine spots from its position last year, Rick Case Enterprises, Inc. of Ft. Lauderdale, FL, is No. 87 with total revenue rising from $244.7 million in 1999 to $289.3 million for 2000.
Chairman and CEO Rick Case attributes this to the continued demand for the foreign nameplates he sells at his ten dealerships like Honda, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Daewoo and Hyundai, and further demand for luxury vehicles like Acura.
“I’ve been in business for 40 years. Last year was the best in our history. We doubled our earnings over the previous year,” he says.
Mr. Case also believes the kind of service his dealerships provide is a driving force. He gives out his home phone number and cell number and encourages his employees to do the same.
“This is a people business, one-on-one, and you have to sell cars one at a time. Personal service is what customers want,” he says. And despite being Ft. Lauderdale neighbors with No. 1 Megadealer AutoNation, “I don’t look at them any differently than I do other dealers. I don’t see that they have any advantage and I don’t see any disadvantage.”
Mr. Case is a Cleveland area native who sold his first car at age 15 in his parents’ front yard.
He started selling Honda motorcycles and eventually moved onto cars, acquiring an Akron Honda franchise for $6,500 in 1972. He’s been Ohio’s largest Honda dealer ever since, adding another location in Cleveland.
He’s grown his business since and expanded to other states, adding dealerships in the Atlanta and Ft. Lauderdale area and is in the process of building a new Honda facility in Cleveland and opening a new Hyundai location there in July. He was also awarded the largest open-point ever in the U.S. for Honda, which will open in Ft. Lauderdale next March.
Hansel Automotive Group of Petaluma, CA, is a newcomer this year, making its debut on the MegaDealer 100 list at No. 77 with 2000 revenue totaling nearly $334 million. Not bad for a metro area with a population of just 300,000 people.
“The auto industry has been in Hansel blood since 1899,” says Henry Hansel, president and co-owner (with brother Stephen).
Their grandfather, Walter Hansel, was a Cadillac dealer in Stockton, CA, at the turn of last century, and drove the first automobile into Yosemite National Park. Their father, Walter, purchased a Ford dealership in Vacaville, CA, after WW II.
Henry became involved in the family business in 1974, after spending time in Silicon Valley. His first acquisition was a Ford dealership in Petaluma in 1979. He continued building the group and now has Lincoln Mercury, Volkswagen, Subaru, BMW, Toyota, Honda and Acura, in addition to an RV operation.
Mr. Hansel feels passionate about the brands he sells, especially Toyota, and praises its product and field people. “The reason I feel so strongly about Toyota now is their product is best of any manufacturer right now. Their field people maximize the use of resources like no other,” he says, adding that Honda and Ford could take a few pointers from them.
Mr. Hansel says his group is always looking to grow, despite not having an acquisition since 1996. “Our growth has primarily come from when sellers have contacted us.” Right now they are growing their current business and not acquiring.
He isn’t worried about large public dealer groups, but admits “the big boys are getting bigger. I don’t see they have a particularly competitive advantage. What they learned is what we already knew.”
Ed Bozarth Inc. of Aurora, CO, holds on to the No. 96 spot for the second year in a row on the MegaDealer 100 list with revenue totaling $252,4 million.
Chairman Ed Bozarth got into the car business as a college student by answering an ad for a Dodge salesman. He ended up buying the dealership. That was in 1975.
“The Dodge dealership was desperate for bodies,” he recalls. “The manager knew I would be there in the afternoon and work the lot at night.”
Now he owns four General Motors dealerships because a professor at Harvard business school once told him to work with the market leader. So he sold the Dodge dealership and relinquished the foreign brands he was selling in favor of Chevys and Pontiacs.
Despite the erosion of GM’s market share, Mr. Bozarth has nothing but praise for the automaker.
“I think General Motors is just absolutely the best. GM is the king of the group,” he says. “They go through some problems because of their tremendous size. Anytime I make a mistake in my agency it would be magnified ten thousand times. We’ve got some problems that smaller dealerships don’t face.”
Mr. Bozarth isn’t adverse to imports, mentioning Toyota and Honda as good brands to own, but says no matter what product he sells, he wants to maintain his group’s customer satisfaction levels.
Like other “little guys” on the Ward’s Megadealer 100 list, Mr. Bozarth believes AutoNation and their ilk are not to be feared.
But he also doesn’t think “family-owned” is synonymous with superior service.
He explains, “We cover a lot of geographic area. I don’t have any ties to Colorado Springs or Grand Junction (cities in Colorado where he has dealerships).
“The consumer is going to go where they get the best treatment. With tremendous CSI, customers come back. If it’s family-owned dealership that doesn’t take care of the consumer, then the consumer feels no loyalty to that dealership.”