All in the Family

With Norma Ross at the helm, Bob Ross Buick overcomes tragedy to maintain growth and press toward the future

Bob Ross Buick has a corner, literally and figuratively, on the Dayton car market. Located at the intersection of Loop Road and Far Hills Avenue (State Road 48), the eight-acre Centerville, Ohio-based dealership, which sells Buick, Mercedes-Benz, GMC and used vehicles, comprises five buildings. Together with two other dealerships, it forms an auto mall. State Road 48 is the main artery leading from downtown Dayton to the surrounding suburbs. The 40 North exit of I-675, another major roadway, is nearby.

Situated in the heart of GM country (there are 63 GM franchises in the area and a Delco truck assembly plant), Bob Ross Buick was built by the late Bob Ross Sr. The CEO had been the No. 1 Buick dealer in Ohio for five consecutive years. In 1995 and 1996, he received Best in Class for Buick and in 1995 earned the Five Star Award for GMC. Then, on July 6, 1997, he suffered a fatal heart attack.

Upon his sudden death, his wife, Norma, took over as president and CEO. His son Robert Jr., 37, and daughter, Jenell, 30, became co-vice presidents, with Robert Jr. taking on the role of manager of fixed operations and Jenell that of dealer/operator.

“It never occurred to us to sell or combine the business or walk away from it all,” says Norma. “We were very certain we weren’t letting anything slip away.”

Norma Ross says she tried to create team spirit among all her employees and to promote opportunities for them to work closer together and help contribute to the dealership.

“My father’s death brought people together and we got stronger,” says Robert Jr., whose sentiments are echoed by his sister, Jenell.

Just one day after her husband’s death, Norma, Jenell and Robert Jr. had to come together as a united front to prove to their employees, customers and auto representatives they could continue the legacy of excellence and prosperity Bob had left behind.

For nearly the past three years, they have proven they are more than up to task. Based on customer and employee satisfaction, location, expanded advertising and repeat business, the dealership is soaring to new heights. A strong product mix and surging economy haven’t hurt either.

Last year, Bob Ross Buick grossed $88.5 million on the sale of 3,622 vehicles-an 18.6% increase from the $72.4 million of 1998, despite the devastating GM autoworkers strike in 1998. Mercedes-Benz sales increased 42% from 1997 to 1999, and for 1999, Mercedes-Benz records for sales, gross profit and units were shattered. They project a 10% to 15% sales increase for 2000.

“The Rosses have been able to maintain a momentum of continuous growth,” says Danny Aden, Mercedes-Benz market manager for Ross Motor Cars for the Chicago region. “They’ve done very well and are building a very solid foundation for the future.”

In addition, the Rosses lost just one manager (he relocated to another region) out of 128 employees after Bob’s death. In fact, seven employees have worked for the Rosses for more than 20 years. They currently employ 130.

“Dad always fostered [the

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