The Road to Recovery

B.E. auto dealers cope with a sluggish economy by using incentives and other measures to drive traffic in their direction

over his 2000 sales of $268.5 million. The company was No. 5 on the list last year. Harrell, who has eight dealerships, says the large increase was due to the acquisition of Honda and Lexus dealerships in 2001.

Cornelius Martin of Martin Automotive Group in Bowling Green, Kentucky, also had a banner year, earning him the No. 3 spot on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list with $353.1 million in sales. Martin has 14 dealerships and recently purchased two more, one of which was Mel Farr’s Ford dealership in Fairfield, Connecticut. “We added two dealerships last year and that accounted for a jump in our sales,” explains Martin, 53. “We also increased our advertising budgetby 50%. We are doing about $700,000 a month in advertising now and it has paid off with increased sales. Despite problems in the economy last year, we had a very good year in terms of sales and profits.”

Martin says he also focused more of his attention on technology and the Internet. He hired an Internet specialist and says that that has increased his business by another 10%.

Another success story is that of Ellenae Fairhurst, owner and general manager of Huntsville Autoplex in Huntsville, Alabama. Fairhurst started out as a secretary with Ford Motor Co. in 1968; seventeen years later, she had worked her way into management. Fairhurst then entered the Chrysler Corp. training program and in 1988 was awarded a dealership. In 2000, Fairhurst’s dealership pulled in $29 million. Last year that figure jumped to $56 million, an increase of more than 93%. Fairhurst has gone from No. 95 on the 2001 BE AUTO DEALER 100 list to No. 56 on the 2002 list.

In May 2001, Fairhurst unveiled a new $7.3 million multiplex on which all three of her dealerships are located. “Despite the problems with the economy and 9-11, we had a very good year,” explains the 59-year-old Fairhurst. “We tightened our expenses, cut back on purchases, and with attrition, we did not fill certain positions.”

The location of Fairhurst’s dealerships was also a big factor in helping her sell more cars, particularly Lexuses. “Huntsville, Alabama, is a quiet secret. It’s the Silicon Valley of the East,” Fairhurst enthuses.” She adds, “The high-end imports have been doing much better than domestic cars in these depressed times. It’s purely economics. People who buy high-end luxury cars have more disposable income overall,” says Fairhurst, who became the first African American woman to open a Lexus dealership.

Last year also brought good news to Pam Rodgers, CEO of DMR Automotive Group L.L.C. in Woodhaven, Michigan, No. 27 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list with $93.9 million in sales. After only eight years with General Motors, she paid off her dealership and now owns it outright. Rodgers, who has one of the nation’s most profitable dealerships, had sales of $74 million last year. She adds that it takes most dealers 15 years or longer to pay for their dealerships. 

A growing number of African American auto dealers think

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