Navigating the Curves (2011 BE100s Auto Dealer of the Year)

Surviving tragic losses and industry turmoil, Jenell Ross repositions the family dealership to speed past the competition

of Ross Automotive. “The will to be successful is very strong in that family. Jenell is a student of the business and I know she’s learned a lot from her parents and now she’s putting it to good use,” he says. “Bob was a heck of a dealer who learned the business and was one of the first minority dealers for General Motors. And he taught his kids the business well.”

Standard & Poor’s, a leading financial services firm, is positive on the outlook for automakers, projecting rising year-over-year demand in the U.S. due to higher employment, increased consumer confidence, pent-up consumer and business demand, and improving access to credit for consumers. The research firm also says luxury vehicle sales, which were also restrained by economic weakness, should show improvement as wealthy consumers become more confident.

But automakers continue to lose minority-owned dealerships. In the last 12 years, the number of General Motors African American dealers has dwindled from 89 to 30. Marjorie Staten, president of the General Motors Minority Dealers Association, says: “GM eliminated dealers based on performance, brand eliminations, and other factors. This left a smaller number of African American dealers to continue their operations.” And now? “We’re seeing programs that I think were very successful before the downturn for GM, like lease pull-ahead programs or 0% financing, and hopefully that will, over a period of time, have a greater impact in sales.”

Another positive effect on to the top line will come by way of a Fiat dealership opening by the end of the year. In April, the Ross dealership was awarded a Fiat franchise for the Dayton area and plans are under way for the construction of a showroom at the site of the company’s used car location. “We felt this was a good opportunity to be a part of a brand that’s returning to the U.S. market,” Jenell says.

The prospects for improvement and growth are music to Jenell’s ears. “The Detroit Auto Show had a different feel this year, which was much more upbeat,” she says. “You know, we needed that and we needed a good start to the year just to get the confidence level back.”

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