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

many others parts of the country. We had a great year.”

Always on the lookout for new opportunities, Pittman has been expanding his presence in the import arena through a strategic partnership. In 2000 he teamed with minority auto dealers H. Steve Harrell (CEO of The Harrell Co., No. 1 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 with gross sales of $417.4 million), Sandy Woods of Brandon Dodge Inc. (No. 7 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 with $242.1 million in sales), Ron Swatty, proprietor of Stone Mountain Toyota in Atlanta, and Chris Doleman, the ex-Minnesota Vikings star, to form Consolidated Equities Inc. L.L.C. The venture’s first acquisition was Cincinnati-based Kings Nissan. Now the group plans to open at least one new domestic dealership in Atlanta, and one in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Pittman was able to make successful forays with imports by targeting small towns instead of major cities. He became a Toyota dealer in Savannah after the store was first offered to another minority dealer who was not interested. “He turned it down because it was a “bad” location. …it meant building a brand new building in a small town,” he says. “Another reason was [because] Savannah was not Atlanta, Baltimore, or Memphis.”

But that’s part of Pittman’s success strategy: take a gamble when others throw in the towel. By focusing on smaller markets, he gains the ability to own strong import nameplates at lower acquisition costs. For instance, Pittman’s initial investment for his Lexus store in Savannah was about $3 million. He figures that the same franchise would have cost as much as $9 million if he had set up shop in Atlanta. The gamble in Bowling Green and Savannah are now paying huge dividends. Asserts Pittman, “It gives you a niche in those markets, areas where you could sell cars with much less of an investment.”

The birth of Pittman’s empire was inspired by a Chrysler advertisement he read 27 years ago. It read, “become a salesman and make $100,000 a year.”

It was 1975 and Pittman was just “helped to leave” as a hub manager at United Parcel Service (UPS). After leaving UPS, he was hired to sell cars at Capital Dodge in Jackson, Mississippi. He had a knack for selling cars and, in his first year, became the dealership’s No. 1 salesman. Responsible for boosting sales at Capital, Pittman was routinely promoted to a variety of positions, including finance and insurance manager as well as new-car and used-car manager. When the dealership was sold in 1983, the new owners kept him on, making him general manager.

By the early 1980s, Chrysler was actively seeking minority recruits for dealerships. In 1986 Pittman entered the Chrysler Dealer Development Program as a trainee and, two years later Sandy Woods, then the senior manager of minority retail dealer development, called him about running a franchise.

In May 1988 Pittman received a $367,000 loan from Chrysler and opened Cardinal Dodge, a defunct dealership that had closed its doors

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