Selling Into The Stratosphere

With an empire anchored by four of the covetedSaturn dealerships, Martin Automative Group CEO Cornelius Martin is flying rings around the competition

Growing up on a farm in greenville, kentucky, taught Cornelius Martin that hard work pays. When he was 14 years old, his father made a deal with him and one of his brothers: grow and sell the family’s tobacoo crop and they could use the money to buy a car. They did and later bought a 1957 Ford, which they tinkered with, drove for miles and finally wrecked a year later. But the beauty, speed and complexity of automobiles intrigued Martin for years to come. It became a fascination that would spawn an enterprise.

Today, Martin, who owns an Oldsmobile/Cadillac, Dodge/Jeep/Eagle, Chevrolet/Geo and four Saturn dealerships, has many more cars to chose from. Operating seven stores in four states requires quick and easy access, a difficult task with at least four-hour drives between each store. But the two pilots who command Martin’s seven-seater Beechjet 400 can transport him between offices within an hour. From his two-story office complex and headquarters in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Martin has built an organization made of more than just cars. Nestled under the watchful eye of Martin Management Group are also lucrative insurance, real estate and aviation concerns.

By “taking care of the customer’s needs,” Martin has position himself as a major player in the automotive sales industry. His stellar performance has General Motors and Saturn tapping him for advice. “He is a good example of what automakers mean when they speak about partnerships with their retailers,” says Greg Martin, Saturn spokesperson for sales, service and marketing. “As one of our top performers in sales and customer satisfaction, he works closely with us to identify the best practices.”

It is this business acumen and foresight that has garnered Cornelius A. Martin, president and CEO of Martin Automotive Group, the distinction of being the Black Enterprise 1997 Auto Dealer of the Year.

THE CALL OF THE WILD
“I have always liked speed and fast toys,” admits Martin, who twice a week, clad in a leather jacket and motorcycle boots, takes to his Harley- Davidson “Fat Boy” for casual 100-mile rides. But the 48-year-old is not all play; in fact, he’ll be the first to tell you he is a risk-taker. “I like to try different things and enjoy pushing the envelope further,” he says. Although he often throws caution to the wind after hours, seldom will he proceed without caution in business.

Since 1985, Martin has built a virtual federation of dealerships, which include Martin Oldsmobile/Cadillac (acquired in 1985) and Martin Dodge/Jeep/Eagle (1990) in Bowling Green; Saturn of Dayton North (1991) and Saturn of Dayton South (1996) in Ohio; Saturn of Charleston- Huntington (1994) in Hurricane, West Virginia; Saturn of Des Moines (1995) in Iowa; and Thoroughbred Chevrolet/Geo (1996) in Lexington, Kentucky.

Having sold some 8,000 cars and trucks last year (68% single car safes, 30% trucks and 2% fleet sales), Martin Automotive Group raked in $114 million in sales, with Saturns accounting for $65 million of that bankroll. This was nearly a 40% increase over 1995 revenues of $80 million–a boost

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