Billion-Dollar Dealer

Prestige Automotive is the first black-owned auto dealership to achieve this earnings milestone. Behind the wheel is a CEO focused on maximizing profits while grooming future business leaders

On a sunny springtime morning just outside of Detroit, Gregory Jackson makes his rounds, strolling past row after row of gleaming automobiles on the lot of his Pontiac/Buick/GMC Truck dealership. A hint of winter still lingers in the air as Jackson walks past a colorful assembly of polished vehicles.

He spots a couple eyeing a shiny Buick LaCrosse parked in a row of sedans. There’s no salesman in sight. A few moments later, he sees another customer pull into the lot and slowly drive past him in search of a parking spot. Jackson has seen enough. Turning toward the large glass windows of the Prestige showroom, the 40-something president and CEO raises his hand, summoning a salesman. Immediately the door flies open and a manager rushes outside. “There are customers over there,” Jackson points out, gesturing toward the first couple. “I want someone to keep his eyes on this lot,” he says to the manager, who quickly complies.

Jackson prides himself on providing his customers with personalized attention, and he doesn’t waver from that fundamental. And the results are showing up in the total earnings of his nine dealerships. Detroit-based Prestige Automotive became the first black-owned auto dealer to surpass $1 billion in sales, making it one of four black-owned companies to ever achieve this. TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc., World Wide Technology Inc., and CAMAC Holdings Inc. are the other three. .

Prestige saw a 39% increase in sales revenues, which was aided by revenues generated from a newly opened location as well as increased fleet sales. Some 60% of Prestige’s sales are fleet transactions. This firmly ensconces Prestige Automotive in the No. 1 spot — the pole position — on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list. Profit margins on fleet sales are not as high as they are in other areas, but Prestige generated $20 million from its service department business, most of it coming from retail car sales. The business manages to produce the lion’s share of its profits from repair services and retail sales, which produce profits of 3% to 5% on sales. Also, the sheer volume of fleet transactions, which include sales, car rentals, and leasing companies, makes the deals worthwhile.

In an industry where perception is everything, the Prestige showroom has a warm and inviting feel to it. Soft lighting highlights the cars and relaxes customers. This Prestige dealership is a far cry from the drab lots with strands of multicolored, plastic flags flapping in the breeze, and handwritten “sale” posters hung on the gate. Even the waiting area in the service department has two small tables with toys on them — a godsend for customers waiting with impatient children. The showroom has a library with magazines and brochures, free coffee, and a computer for customers who want to surf the Internet while they wait.

In recognition of the company reaching its $1 billion milestone and achieving sales growth despite a lackluster business climate, BLACK ENTERPRISE has named Prestige Automotive the 2005 Auto Dealer of the Year. Jackson is not resting

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