All in the Family

Grants, New Mexico, is the kind of place that reminds you of a town in an old western movie, a place where there is more tumbleweed crossing the street than cars. It was in this town that Eddie B. Corley Sr. and his wife, Gladys Mae, raised their eight children in a modest home on a dusty, dead-end road.

In those early days, the uranium mines fed Corley’s grocery store, clothing store, gas stations, and restaurant with plenty of customers. But when the mines shut down in the early 1980s, Corley kept food on the table by pumping gas, washing windows, checking under hoods at his service station, and working at the local post office. “It was hard. And my wife always stood by me even though we struggled sometimes,” recalls a teary-eyed Corley, now 74.

Then fate stepped in the day John Herbert, a minority dealer-manager for Ford, pulled into Corley’s station for gas and inquired about the abandoned Ford dealership lot across the street. Not knowing who he was talking to, Corley told him that it went out of business because it was mismanaged. “Why don’t you take it and open it,” Herbert suggested. Corley answered that he would, but he didn’t have the money.

“So when he left, he gave me his card. It said, ‘Dealer Placement Manager, Ford Motor Company,'” Corley recalls in mock shock. “We put together a deal, and I opened up the Ford dealership in 1982. I believe it was the good Lord that opened the door for me.”

Over the next 26 years, Corley would turn one Ford dealership into eight dealerships across six manufacturing brands, including Hyundai, Nissan, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Lincoln, and Dodge — and they are all managed by his children or other family members. Named the Corley Automotive Group, the dealerships together earned $107 million in sales for 2007 — a 16% increase over the previous year. Because of that impressive growth, combined with a steadfast commitment to customer service and a strong work ethic, BLACK ENTERPRISE has named Corley Automotive Group its 2008 Auto Dealer of the Year.

To get started, Ford invested 80% of about $400,000 needed for Corley to purchase his first dealership. Corley put in the other 20%. Within five years, Corley had repaid his debt to Ford, and his dealership was generating between $12 million and $17 million annually. Corley admits that he had no sales experience, but he did have business experience. “I followed the dealership guidelines to the letter, keeping expenses tight and overhead low. We started out with about five cars on the lot, but soon we were able to sell up to 35 used and 30 new cars. It went a long way to helping us pay off the dealership.”