FINDLAY, OH - The home of the "dirt-cheap deal" is moving to new quarters which are far from cheap.
Based in a town of only 40,000 and a county of nearly twice that many, Findlay Ford-Lincoln Mercury has achieved such success that its impending new home is a $7 million complex being built right off busy I-75.
Owner Stan Kujawa sees the new site as a sign of the growth Findlay Ford-LM has experienced since he took it over with Ford Dealer Development help in 1983.
"We've led the region in sales among dual-brand dealers for five of the last seven years," he says. "I forecast that with the new buildings we'll keep the lead for a long time to come."
The buildings will include a 10-car showroom in the main structure plus one of Ford's first Quick Lane fast-service structures. The latter will provide 10 bays for lube jobs and light maintenance.
Known as "Mr. Dirt Cheap" around Hancock County because of his use of the term in advertising since 1993, the 55-year-old Kujawa looks to the Quick Lane facility as a draw for all brands of vehicles.
He says, "Quick Lane in a stand-alone building with plenty of bays - selling tires as well as wheel alignments - will also prove a source of vehicle sales.
"We'll be on 15 paved acres and with all the traffic we'll be getting right off the Interstate, we're planning a deli that overlooks the service department and possibly a barber and beauty shop."
In moving from cramped quarters on Findlay's Bright Road auto row, Mr. Kujawa says he'll be better positioned to add one of Ford's "other" brands, even though cities of Findlay's relatively small size mostly are confined to domestic makes.
He says, "One of my GM dealer neighbors lost Mazda a year ago. And we always talk here about Jaguar and Volvo. This place has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Ohio - about 2% - because we have Cooper Tire, Dow Chemical, Marathon Oil and Whirlpool appliance plants, plus regional distribution centers for Best Buy and Kohl's.
"So there's a good market for upscale cars. We'll be ready for any or all of those three."
Another factor buoying Findlay Ford-L M's sales is its location halfway between the Mazda-Ford assembly plant in Flat Rock, MI, and Honda assembly plants in East Liberty and Marysville, OH.
"A number of Tier Two suppliers to those plants have settled in Hancock County or nearby. All that has helped us, especially in the truck area," says business manager Ron Kujawa, the owner's nephew.
After amassing $70.5 million in gross revenues in 1998 to finish 408th on the Ward's Dealer Business 500, Findlay Ford-L M rose substantially in 1999 thanks to a 15% rise in new-truck sales to 1,537 units.
Findlay Ford-L M surprised even the Kujawas last year by raising its Ford Credit Red Carpet lease total to a record 1,319, compared to 992 in 1998.
"Leasing has become just as big a factor in the sales side for small-town dealers," says Ron Kujawa, "and it gives us a good source of late-model used vehicles to sell."
The Findlay dealership has gone all out for Internet marketing, promoting former maintenance man Rick Liebfarth to information specialist after he completed computer courses at the University of Findlay.
"We'll get even more aggressive on the Internet when the new building opens this summer," declares Stan Kujawa, a University of Toledo engineering graduate who began selling cars in the 1970s for Kistler Ford in Toledo, OH.
Active in Findlay civic affairs, Stan and his wife of 24 years, Patricia, are proudest of founding Children's Wishing Star, a nonprofit foundation which helps children in Latin American countries.
The Kujawas have six daughters. They adopted the youngest two, Karoline, 8, and Annie, 5, in El Salvador.