Bigger Is Better

Anthony March and Ernest Hodge have joined forces and dealerships to make March/Hodge Holdings an auto powerhouse

for another opportunity.

It came in 1991 when a Cadillac franchise in Atlanta became available. He moved south and never looked back. The deal cost a cool $2 million to $3 million in floor plan — that is, the actual cars in inventory — plus another $500,000 in equipment and $1.5 million in capital. Hodge put up 15% of the capital loan; Motors Holding Co. put up the rest. The loan repayment schedule for the franchise was seven years; Hodge owned his Cadillac store free and clear within two years.

By the time March graduated from the academy in 1985, he’d saved enough money to buy his first store that same year — a decaying, downtown dealership in Hartford whose owner was 83 years old and not very involved in managing the store. He says it was typical of the kind of opportunities offered to minority dealers. Although the dealership had lost money for five years in a row, the purchase price was $2.3 million.

March says he took the same product line, the same location and the same group of employees and made a few changes to the look of the place — painted the paneling, reupholstered the chairs and desks to the tune of an additional $100,000 above the $110,000 in cash he’d put up front for the franchise. He’d turned it around so that it seemed different not only to the employees, but to prospective customers as well.

"[The dealership] made $51,000 in its first month after losing money for five years in a row. Our first full year in business, we made $500,000 in profits," says March of his original store, Tony March Buick. Motors Holding Co. also held the note on his franchise; he paid them off in 30 months, almost four and a half years ahead of schedule.

That store has now been relocated to a seven-acre flagship location just off Highway 91, one of the city’s main arteries. Its sleek, rotunda skylight showroom highlights just one car model, and is decorated in the gray, burgundy and blue of the Buick emblem. Its customer service area is open and airy with modular sofas, and bistro tables and chairs where customers can relax with a cup of coffee, the latest magazines and newspapers, or watch a little television while they wait. In 1990, during an overall market slump, March expanded to include the GMC line of trucks and sport utility vehicles.

Not long after, he bought into Saturn of Hartford and became one of the first 24 dealers in the country to have a Saturn franchise. Last year, March added a Mazda and Mitsubishi franchise to his holdings, along with another Saturn franchise in nearby Berlin, Connecticut.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Hodge added two Volkswagen franchises to his group — and another one, in Douglasville, Georgia, is still under construction. According to Don Hughes, area executive for Volkswagen North America, VW had pulled out of the southeast

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