Vegas vacation led to love and a career In 1988, Ping Lee DeRogatis of Denver took a trip to Las Vegas.
While visiting a casino on the Strip, she met a craps dealer and fell in love with him. So she relocated to Las Vegas, got married and found work as a clerk at a car dealership.
That was 10 years ago. By a combination of Las Vegas luck and a hard-work ethic she learned as a girl working at her father's restaurant in Colorado, Ms. DeRogatis rose through the ranks of the dealership, Desert Dodge.
Dave Willden, the dealership's owner at the time, put her through the NADA training academy, then promoted her to assistant general manager. She became general manager and stayed on when Mr. Willden last year sold his store to AutoNation Inc., the nation's largest consolidator.
Desert Dodge's vehicle sales revenues hit $57 million last year. Total revenues topped $72.6 million.
Of that, it's off-site 44-stall body shop took in an amazing $6 million, and is the largest DaimlerChrysler body shop in the country.
Ms. DeRogatis gives much of the credit for that to shop manager Gordon Bailey.
He says success comes from establishing good relationships with insurance companies - "because they are customers in a sense" - as well as giving top treatment to individual customers.
Part of the shop's high volume of work is because there are a lot of accidents in Las Vegas, says Mr. Bailey.
"It's a three-shift town," he says. "And a lot of drivers can get distracted by all the neon lights. Before you know it, 'pow,' an accident happens.
Ms. DeRogatis says Desert Dodge's body shop has a 100% absorption rate, meaning "we wouldn't have to sell a vehicle and we'd still be profitable."
But the dealership sells plenty of cars and trucks. It sold 1,437 new vehicles last year and almost as many used units.
A solid 70% of sales are trucks. The hot sellers? Ram pickups and Durango SUVs, says Ms. DeRogatis.
She says the dealership is trying to get more action on car sales. That includes special financing of Dodge Neons.
The showroom holds but one vehicle, a Dodge Viper, which stands front and center as a showpiece. The display room once held more vehicles but there wasn't room for all the customers.
So vehicles were moved out and replaced by tables and chairs for customer transactions. Sometimes the place gets so busy, it's almost standing room only.
"I've never seen so many customers in a showroom on a Monday afternoon," says one visitor, Barry Catlett, a producer for Automotive Satellite Training Network.
There are three other Dodge dealerships in town, more than any other manufacturer.
"That hasn't hurt our business at all," says Ms. DeRogatis. "It's actually helped, because there is more of a market presence for Dodge, and it gets people wanting to buy one."
She oversees a staff of 180 employees. The attitude she conveys to the sales staff is: "It's a blue sky and a great day to sell cars."
And virtually every day sees a blue sky in Las Vegas.
Ms. DeRogatis rarely goes to the Strip anymore. Too much traffic, too many tourists, she says. Besides, the smaller neighborhood casinos give better odds.