Command Performance

Spurred by a strong consumer demand for luxury cars, the Fitzpatrick Dealership Grouprules the road with its foreign imports

$12 million, respectively.

The Coliseum Lexus dealership sits directly across from the Oakland Coliseum, home to the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders and Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics. The stadium’s proximity is a marketing bonanza for the dealership. The sign above the Coliseum Lexus entrance acts as a billboard for 220,000 drivers who pass by each day on Highway 880. “That’s why it’s called Coliseum Lexus. It tells you right away where it is,” Fitzpatrick says.

Whenever Fitzpatrick shows up at any of his dealerships, he immerses himself in the daily operations. For an executive who is constantly juggling his time between dealerships, one might expect him to be a highly aggressive, workaholic type. But Fitzpatrick is a humble man who is quick to give credit to his staff. “I’m a hands-on manager who prefers to run the day-to-day operations. But I also delegate a lot of responsibilities to the managers at each location,” says Fitzpatrick. His multitasking shifted into high gear at the Valley BMW dealership as he held a conference call, answered e-mail, and discussed contracts with his office manager, Wendy Mandes. After lunch, he’s off to Valley Lexus to finalize a print ad campaign and discuss payroll matters with the parts and service manager.

In addition to overseeing a company with 160
employees, Fitzpatrick is president of the Toyota-Lexus Minority Dealers Association. He works closely with Toyota Motor sales executives and NAMAD as an advocate for increasing the number of minority dealerships and addressing the challenges they face. Fitzpatrick, who encourages stronger ties between the dealers and automakers, commends Toyota and BMW for their commitment to expand the number of minority dealerships.

“Our association would like to see more minorities owning dealerships,” he says. “Toyota was one of the first companies to sign an agreement with NAMAD to achieve the goal of 15% of minority dealerships. We’re approaching 100 ethnic minority dealers right now.”

Fitzpatrick believes the next generation of young minority dealers needs to become more active in politics and economic issues that affect all dealerships. He explains that “the same laws that are going into effect for our neighbor dealers are the same for us.”

He points to the example of California’s Car Buyers Bill of Rights, a bill that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed last year giving used-car buyers new rights and protections. According to the new law, which goes into effect in July, a buyer is permitted to return a used vehicle priced at less than $40,000 to a dealership within a two-day cooling off period after the sale, for any reason. Dealers can charge as much as a $250 fee for the return option.

“We were looking at legislation that would have had a very negative impact on our ability to sell used cars,” says Fitzpatrick, who as chairman of the California Motorcar Dealers Association pushed for a more dealer-friendly version of the bill. “[The return option] is like an insurance policy that consumers can purchase for a nominal fee-depending on the cost of the car-so if they are dissatisfied,

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