Steering Toward Profits

One of the year's automotive growth leaders, Wintson R. Pittman Sr., found the right formula for success: a mix of domestic and import models, a crackerjack sales team, and multigenerational management

Survey the spacious, burgundy-carpeted, second-floor office of Winston R. Pittman Sr., and one will find a quote in bold black letters on a gold-plated sign. It reads: As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say-I just watch what they do. That philosophy, summed up by legendary industrial baron Andrew Carnegie well over a century ago, is one that the CEO of Louisville, Kentucky-based Winston Pittman Enterprises lives by. The 51-year-old entrepreneur is a man of action, not words.

It took this kind of attitude and focus to build Pittman Enterprises into one of the nation’s most successful auto dealerships — especially at a time when the sluggish economy has placed a number of them on the scrap heap. Pittman has successfully stitched together an automotive fiefdom, expanding from the Cardinal Dodge dealership he started 14 years ago, to a collection of franchises that include luxury car imports such as Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. By adding imports to his inventory and taking the calculated risk of expanding into new markets shunned by most black dealers, he’s created a vehicle mix with high-end models that fetch $28,000 to $128,000 from an upscale clientele. In 2001, Pittman Enterprises posted gross sales of $154.3 million at its six franchises based on 8,052 units — cars and trucks — sold. That’s a whopping 71.3% gain from sales of $90.3 million based on 5,840 total units sold in 2000.

Pittman’s grit and hustle, along with a clever strategy of assembling diverse offerings and a dynamic sales team, have placed his dealership into maximum overdrive. As a result, the enterprise zoomed past the competition, rising from No. 29 on the 2001 BE AUTO DEALER 100 to No. 14 on this year’s rankings. Due to these accomplishments and more, Winston Pittman Enterprises has earned the distinction of being named BE Auto Dealer of the Year.

GOING UPSCALE PRODUCES WINNING RESULTS
Last year, about 74% of the company’s new car sales — totaling 3,115 units — came from import nameplates. The groundwork had been laid more than a year ago. In December 2000 Pittman opened Bowling Green Imports, which sells Mercedes-Benz and BMW models in central Kentucky, and Chatham Parkway Lexus in Savannah, Georgia. Launching the Lexus outlet made him the first black, luxury car dealer to enter Savannah — home to many affluent individuals and accessible to nearby Hilton Head, a tony tourist resort area near Charleston, South Carolina. It also complemented his Toyota store, which he opened in Savannah in 1997.

The upscale import dealerships enabled Pittman to successfully navigate last year’s rough economic terrain. For instance, at his Bowling Green franchise, Pittman’s BMW models produced a record-selling year and the Mercedes-Benz models gave him access to a new cadre of affluent car buyers. “The segment of people who buy Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and BMW [vehicles] are the last people to get hit in a recession. [That] helped us greatly,” Pittman says. “And the economy in Savannah, where our Lexus store is located and [where] many retired people live, did not get hit like

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