the interim, we are happy with the 5% or 6% representation [of blacks at the import luxury dealers] … but until we see true parity, we’ll never be happy.”
An astute businessman, Aaron doesn’t take a penny out of his businesses until they see a profit and prefers to use the funds to pay down debt. He projects the auto group will be debt-free in the next five to seven years. He also oversees all of his operations daily. That goes a long way with the customers. “The reputation that he’s built in terms of ethics and baseball says a lot; we recognize that if he were not hands-on in the business or involved in local community activities, business would suffer,” explains Jim Gerow, general manager of Hank Aaron Honda and Hank Aaron Toyota-Scion in Griffin, Georgia.
With that mind-set, Aaron set out to diversify his holdings in the car business. About two years ago, Aaron added the MINI Cooper franchise to the BMW dealership; in 2003, he purchased the Honda/Toyota dealership. He is also building a Jaguar/Land Rover dealership that is scheduled to open in August.
The strategy for the Honda/Toyota dealership is a bit different from BMW, mostly because they cater to a different demographic. Whereas the BMW customer in Union City makes $100,000 per year on average, has a college degree, and lives in an affluent suburb, the Honda/Toyota consumer in Griffin caters to a blue-collar consumer. Therefore, the dealership is very involved in the community, including advertising at all of the little league parks around Griffin. That advertising paid for uniforms and equipment.
On the luxury side, BMW corporate has a goal for its dealers to up their units sold to 300,000 annually, equaling a 16% goal increase for Hank Aaron BMW. But Aaron’s people aren’t worried. “We want to grow the business to 1,000 new cars annually; we can reach this goal in 18 to 24 months,” says Sidney Bar
ron, general manager of Hank Aaron BMW. “In 2003, we sold 549 cars. We’ll sell 700 at year’s end.” According to J.D. Power & Associates, imports represented 39.9%, or $6.6 million of 2003 new-vehicle sales with luxury models representing 11.2%, or $1.9 million, of that figure.
So what’s the secret to Aaron’s success? “The biggest attribute is leadership,” explains Barron about his boss. “He has always been a winner … his whole objective is, ‘Why do we have to be the smallest dealership in the Atlanta area? We’re gonna be the best and the largest.’” To grow the company from a single store into a mega-enterprise, the strategy is twofold: marketing and customer service.
Having the Hank Aaron name is a big advantage. In fact, it was essential to being awarded the BMW dealership. “I wanted to know his fingerprint would be on it,” says Philip A. Capossela, vice president, Southern Region, for BMW of North America L.L.C. “He really did live up to it. It’s very competitive in the car business to make sure you give the best service.