Columbia is on the move. Cars, trucks, motorcycles … no matter, we crave personal mobility. The local market that sates our appetite for mechanized wheeled contraptions has seen a flurry of changes in ownership and realignments the past few years. For those without a scorecard, here’s a cheat sheet of who’s selling what in 2016.
JOE MACHENS DEALERSHIPS
McLarty Automotive Group
Charles Oglesby, CEO
Charles Oglesby loves cars so much, he has “unretired” himself from the auto business three times.
“This is fun,” says the CEO of McLarty Automotive Group, new owner of Joe Machens Dealerships. “A dream.”
The dream for Oglesby began last year in Little Rock when the newly formed McLarty Automotive Group purchased all but two of Gary Drewing’s Joe Machens auto dealerships. The purchase on Oct. 19 transferred to group owner Mark McLarty the Columbia dealerships for Ford, Lincoln, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Nissan, Hyundai, Fiat, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Toyota, Scion and Volkswagen, plus Joe Machens Capital City Ford Lincoln in Jefferson City.
“Machens is the first acquisition of McLarty Automotive Group,” Oglesby says. An earlier 2015 Mark McLarty purchase of Fletcher Honda — renamed Columbia Honda — was added to the Machens fold. McLarty Automotive Group also owns five dealerships in the Little Rock area as well, selling Honda, Mazda, Nissan and Volkswagen.
McLarty Automotive Group may be a new entity, but Mark McLarty is no stranger to the auto industry. Columbians may recognize the last name — his father is Thomas “Mack” McLarty, former White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton — but in automotive circles, the McLarty name has been well-known for four generations, since Mark’s great-grandfather entered the business in 1921. When Mack McLarty sold the family dealerships to Asbury Automotive Group in 1995, a non-compete agreement restricted Mark from owning dealerships in the United States; he moved to Brazil and later China where he built dealership groups in both countries. He returned to the United States in 2014 to establish McLarty Automotive Group and tapped former Asbury chairman Charles Oglesby to head up the company.
A 45-year veteran of the auto business, Oglesby began his career in 1972 after graduating from the University of Georgia, selling Oldsmobiles in his hometown of Savannah. By 1985, he had moved on to a Nissan dealership in Dallas, then to other dealerships and consolidated groups in Kansas City, San Francisco, Atlanta and New York. He worked his way up the ranks of the industry — finance manager, sales manager, general manager, partner and dealer.
“I found I had a gift for building businesses,” he says.
In 2002, Oglesby joined Asbury, the sixth-largest automotive retailer in the country. A Fortune 500 company, Asbury currently operates more than 100 franchises selling 28 brands. Oglesby spent nearly a decade rebuilding dealerships and overseeing the group’s consolidation efforts, retiring as chairman in 2011.
The prospect of McLarty’s Machens purchase last year was intriguing — enough to lure Oglesby out of his third try at retirement. The McLarty group’s move into mid-Missouri marked a change in ownership of eight Joe Machens stores selling 14 brands at some of the top volume dealerships in the state. The flagship Joe Machens Ford Lincoln dealership, in business here since 1969, has ranked as the No. 1 volume dealer in Missouri for the past 18 years. With a track record like that, the new owners wisely decided to keep the Joe Machens name.
“This operation is so expansive,” Oglesby says. “Joe Machens is the largest automotive group in Missouri. Before we made the investment to buy this group, we looked at the position of the dealerships. Quantity reflects quality. Consumers will not reward you with their business over and over unless they believe they’re receiving value. Customers always go where the value is.”
The McLarty group intends to sustain the momentum Machens has built over the years.
“This is a great legacy,” Oglesby says. “We saw the value here; we understand the Joe Machens legacy and what that history represents.”
There have been few changes at the company since the purchase last October. With Honda in the fold, the company employs about 1,100 in Columbia and Jefferson City. A few managerial changes resulted from the departure of Drewing family members and shifting of duties. But there are no plans to add to the company structure, Oglesby says.
“The dealerships are designed to stand on their own,” he says. “Our business model is partnerships. Our general managers are our partners. We’re not bringing a playbook in here.”
McLarty Automotive Group, he adds, “thinks global but acts local. Joe Machens is still a local company in most aspects. We’re making investments here in local relationships with our employees and with the charities Machens has long supported. It’s a value given back.”
Indeed, Oglesby’s first priority after his arrival last fall was winning over Machens employees, many who have been with the company for decades. “We had to sell them on us,” he says. “Every market I’ve been in is different, but the people are always the same. You have to listen to the employees and the customer — that’s what sets the direction of the company. Gary Drewing did it for years.”
The holiday party in December proved a turning point in the transition, Oglesby says. Mark McLarty attended, as did the Drewing family. The appearance of Rusty Drewing as Santa Claus — a tradition at many past Machens parties — elicited a thunderous welcome.
“We kept it a secret,” Oglesby recalls. “When Rusty walked out as Santa, the roar nearly raised the roof.”
The future is bright for the Joe Machens dealerships, Oglesby says.
“We’re opportunistic,” he says. “We expect to continue to grow. We like stable markets like Columbia. They seem to weather the financial storms.”
A new recruiting effort, headed up by Brian Neuner, director of business development at Joe Machens Ford Lincoln, will help to sustain growth, he adds.
The company will be looking at efficiencies as technology enables the dealerships to move to a dynamic system. “There are some sophisticated systems, electronic processes,” Oglesby says, “that allow ease of information gathering and support to enhance both the customer and employee experience.”
McLarty Automotive Group aims to fit in with the community, Oglesby says. “Joe Machens has had rapid growth in the last few years,” he says. “When absorbing that growth, the first thing you notice is the desire to not be noticed. We’ll be successful here when this change is no longer a topic of discussion.”
The Executive Team
BOB JACAWAY has been executive manager of Joe Machens Dealerships since 2008. “Joe Machens Dealerships are still as aggressive as ever and will continue to be community driven, customer focused and employer of choice,” he says. “We take great pride in our employee satisfaction as well as a positive customer experience.”
STEPHEN NAGEL, general manager of Joe Machens Ford Lincoln, is a Missouri native who grew up in Middletown. After a stint in the Navy and a career with Autonation in Memphis, Tenn., Nagel returned to the Show-Me State last year to manage Columbia Honda for Mark McLarty. After the purchase of Joe Machens Dealerships, Nagel moved to the Ford dealership.
“Our plan is to maintain and expand on the community relationships that the Drewings established,” Nagel says. “As one of the largest employers in the area, we are extremely sensitive to maintaining continuity from the Drewings to us. We realize our employees are our greatest asset in servicing the customer base in the community. Joe Machens Ford Lincoln already is a legend and great community partner. My vision is to build on that with a new set of eyes looking for new opportunities, but not forgetting the history of what got us here.”
TOM STEGEMAN, general manager of Joe Machens Capital City Ford Lincoln, is a 22-year veteran of the Jefferson City dealership.
“Almost five years ago, the [former Mike Kehoe Ford] dealership became part of the Joe Machen’s family,” he says. “This transition gave the Jefferson City location access to a huge inventory of vehicles, which gives our customers the best selection of cars and trucks in Missouri. We were able to retain our long-term employees and maintain the service and feel of a hometown dealer. The most recent change in ownership has resulted in very little change in day-to-day operations. We have been able to invest in technology, however, to update our website to make it easier for our customers to shop online if they choose. The owners, managers and employees understand the recipe for success — a huge selection of inventory, competitive pricing and great customer service.”
DANNY HAMMACK began his automotive career with Frank Fletcher in Arkansas, moving to Columbia in 2011 to manage the Honda store for Fletcher. A move to Joe Machens Ford Lincoln in 2013 was followed by a trip back to Columbia Honda last fall.
Hammack says the dealership’s most recent ownership change has been well-received by both staff and customers. “We continue to be involved in our community,” Hammack says, “and strive to ensure that customer service is our top priority. There is a very bright future for our dealership and brand.”
CARL YOUNG, longtime Machens employee and general manager of Joe Machens Nissan, promises, “The change will not look different in the customer’s eyes. We still have the same team and taking care of our customers is still our first priority. We will continue to grow the Machens Nissan brand.”
Rusty & Gary Drewing, Owners
Don’t think for a moment that Gary Drewing is slowing down or even considering retirement.
“We love the automobile business,” Drewing says. “I don’t look at the car business as work.”
Last fall, Drewing sold all but two of his Joe Machens dealerships to McLarty Automotive Group of Little Rock. The former “car czar” of Columbia, owner of the largest dealership group in Missouri, retained only his BMW and Mercedes-Benz franchises to form Drewing Automotive with his son Rusty.
“We wanted to keep something after the sale and see where it goes,” he says.
Drewing arrived in Columbia from his native St. Louis in 1983, an experienced representative of the Ford Motor Co. He joined auto dealer Joe Machens as his partner and general manager.
“We had three franchises and 34 employees,” Drewing recalls.
A collection of vehicle franchises rotated in and out of the Machens dealership as it continued to grow. Owner Joe Machens died in 1997, leaving his son, Dave, and Drewing as partners in the operation. Drewing bought out Dave Machens in 2006 to become sole owner. By the end of 2013, the Joe Machens dealerships numbered 16 franchises and nearly 1,100 employees. The flagship Joe Machens Ford Lincoln dealership was Missouri’s No. 1 volume dealer, a top ranking it had held since 1997.
The operation has had many suitors, hoping to buy a piece of the Machens magic. “Several groups approached us over the years,” Drewing says. “But when McLarty contacted us, we looked at what they were offering and what we thought we could get done. With any deal, we wanted to maintain the body of the organization and the name, and we wanted to make sure our employees could look at a new owner as family.”
The sale closed on Oct. 19. Drewing rechristened his remaining dealerships as BMW of Columbia and Mercedes-Benz of Columbia. Son Rusty, former president/owner of Joe Machens Capital City Ford Lincoln, is president and majority owner of Drewing Automotive. One other son, Gary Jr., also works at the dealerships, which employ 80.
Drewing is proud of his sons’ involvement in the family business.
“I’m a proud father to begin with,” he says. “It’s been very rewarding to watch what my children do. Rusty is a phenomenal owner, a sharp car person. He’s the one responsible for our growth over the last seven or eight years.”
There are already plans to grow the two luxury German auto dealerships. “My motto is, you either get better or you get worse,” Drewing says. A new BMW facility is under construction at the site of the old Days Inn, on a 5-acre parcel near the Mercedes-Benz lot on I-70 Drive S.W. The 25,000-square-foot showroom is scheduled to open at the end of the year. The old BMW facility will transition to extra space for more vehicles.
The two dealerships currently have a combined inventory of about 400 new and used cars. “Turnover is the key,” he says. “Typically, a car stays on the lot 30 to 60 days. You want to turn over your inventory as often as possible.”
The Drewings expect to grow sales 20 to 25 percent over the next few years and increase employee numbers by 20 percent.
“Selling BMW and Mercedes-Benz is no different than selling any other car brand,” Drewing says. “We approach the business with the same philosophy. The No. 1 goal in selling cars is happy customers. You don’t want to sell one vehicle to that customer — you want to sell 10.”
He says this philosophy works, even with luxury brands. “BMW and Mercedes-Benz are phenomenal cars,” Drewing says. “They’re a lot more affordable than people realize. We want to offer a luxury buying experience at affordable prices. Customers can enjoy the experience and still get a payment or lease they can afford.”
Drewing doesn’t rule out another round of expansion for his family’s new auto group. “We’ll see what the opportunities are, see what develops,” he says. “We still want to assist Joe Machens in the transition, and we’ll continue to help sell for McLarty.”
The Drewings’ long tradition of community involvement will not change, he insists. “We’re going to stay very active in the community,” Drewing says. “That was a big part of the deal when we sold Machens. We will always support the community and our customers in the community.”
Drewing sees a bright future for the Columbia auto market. “BMW and Mercedes-Benz will change and grow,” he predicts. “Joe Machens should maintain its market dominance. I don’t see anybody challenging it.”
The local market is stable, he adds, and the 2016 forecast for the industry is strong. “Low interest rates and low oil prices help,” he notes.
“It’s fun to do business with the people we do business with,” Drewing says. “We have outstanding people here at the dealerships. They’re excited for the future, and so am I. We’ve always had an open-door policy but we’re more hands-on now. With just two dealerships, our people are seeing us a lot.”
KIA OF COLUMBIA
Morgan Automotive Group
Chris & Dan Kellar, Partners
It was the cold call that changed Dan Kellar’s life.
In the winter of 2015, the general manager of Joe Machens Toyota Scion was ready to move up another rung on his career ladder and become an owner/partner of his own dealership. Out of the blue, he called Kia dealer Stuart Head, co-owner of Head Motor Co.
“I just came right out and asked, ‘This is a weird question, but are you interested in selling your Kia franchise?’ And he answered, ‘As a matter of fact, we were just talking about that this morning.’ ”
By summer’s end, Kellar had found an investment partner in Larry Morgan, who with his son Brett owns Morgan Automotive Group, a network of 14 dealerships in Florida. Kellar and Morgan, friends for the past several years, partnered to form Columbia Automotive Management LLC; principals are Dan and Chris Kellar, and Larry and Brett Morgan.
The Kellars met the Morgans eight years ago as fellow travelers. Larry Morgan, a Hannibal native and University of Missouri graduate, shared a passion with the Kellars for the Mizzou Tigers. They struck up a friendship, nurtured through travel and Southeastern Conference football games.
“Larry told me, ‘If you ever find something, let’s talk,’ ” Kellar recalls. “I happen to run across a good deal, and the race was on.”
Morgan found the Columbia auto market an attractive draw, despite the distance from his Florida base. “The Columbia market has been dominated for years by one dealership group, and the residents deserve options,” Morgan says. “We believe Columbia is a stable economy and the store has tons of upside potential with the growing Kia brand.”
“After I discovered it was available, I realized I didn’t know much about Kia,” Kellar says. “I don’t think many people here do. Kia is the best-kept secret in the business. It has taken the auto industry by storm the last 12 to 24 months.”
Kia, named for a Korean word that means “rising out of Asia,” entered the U.S. market in 1992. The company has manufactured cars in its West Point, Ga., factory since 2010.
“Korea makes good products,” Kellar says. “What I learned only reinforced my desire to move forward with the purchase. I see Kia right now where Toyota was 12 years ago, focusing on customer service.”
Kellar’s career has been all about customer service. A Jefferson City native, he arrived in Columbia in 1985 to attend college. By 1988, he had entered the workaday world, selling used cars at the Orscheln lot (where BMW is today). A co-worker left to work at Joe Machens Ford Lincoln, “and he talked me into coming along,” Kellar says. He worked his way up at the Machens Ford and Toyota stores, serving as sales manager and finance manager. In 2006, Kellar became the general manager at the Joe Machens Toyota Scion dealership.
“I learned a lot from Gary Drewing,” Kellar says. “He’s a good businessman, very customer oriented.”
Kellar left the Machens organization last summer, as he busied himself with negotiations for the Kia franchise. They closed the deal on Sept. 1, retaining the majority of fixed operations and the service and parts departments. About 80 percent of the sales staff is new to the dealership, Kellar says. Total employees number 38.
“We’ll grow it slowly,” Kellar says. “Build a solid foundation.”
Mid-year, that building effort will take on a physical quality as Keller and Morgan embark on a complete renovation of the facility on Business Loop 70. Plans call for a new gallery showroom that meets Kia’s specifications to allow sales of the automaker’s top-of-the-line K900 luxury car, the only Kia model the Columbia dealership does not currently sell. Square footage will increase from 23,000 to 26,000; plans also call for adding a three-lane service reception area outside. Construction should last six to seven months, Kellar says, and will be set up so the business can work around the project.
In the first four months of new ownership, sales at the dealership were up 15 percent over the same period in 2014, Kellar says. Goals are to increase sales growth by 20 percent in the dealership’s first year, and add 15 to 20 percent growth every year after, he says. Kellar hopes to add five salespeople and five employees in service and parts soon — getting the right people in the right places, he says. Dealership inventory is typically 150 new cars and 100 used.
“The best customer experience in all departments is my No. 1 goal,” Kellar says. “If we can provide that, everything else will take care of itself.”
HEAD MOTOR CO.
Stuart & Steve Head, Owners
Steve and Stuart Head are in it for the fun with their latest venture.
“The motorcycle side of the auto business is so much fun,” says Stuart Head. “There’s definitely a fun factor.”
The Head brothers plunged into the motorcycle market last fall, shortly after they sold their Kia franchise to Dan and Chris Kellar and Morgan Automotive Group. Longtime bike enthusiasts, the brothers kept an eye on Indian motorcycles. Finally, they convinced Indian to take a look at them. After the Kia sale closed on Sept. 1, they turned to rearranging their remaining car lot a few blocks away on the Business Loop, making room for motorcycles with the used cars. They remodeled the showroom to meet Indian’s requirements, and began stocking the motorcycles in late November.
“It’s been fun ever since,” Head says. “Test drives are great, because I get to hop on another bike and go riding with the customer. Sunny days are good for business.”
The twin brothers (Steve is four minutes older) grew up in the auto business. Their father, Richard Head, opened Head Motor Co. in downtown Columbia in 1960. He moved his business to 400 Business Loop 70 W. in the mid-’60s. For years, Head Motor Co. was the No. 1 independent auto dealer in central Missouri, Stuart says. From 1971 to 1981, the dealership held a Toyota franchise. In 1998, the Heads acquired a Kia franchise, and for the first few years of the 21st century sold Suzuki cars as well. By 2004, they had dropped Suzuki and bought another Business Loop property dedicated to Kia sales.
“We like to focus on one new-car brand at a time,” Head says. “With multiple franchises, it’s hard to give each brand the proper attention. We got behind Kia because it’s a great company.”
The brothers are even more effusive in their praise for the Indian brand. The Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Co. originally produced motorcycles from 1901 to 1953 in Springfield, Mass., dominating the market as the largest manufacturer in the world. Bankruptcy in 1953 closed the company until Polaris Industries resurrected it in 2011 and moved production to Spirit Lake, Iowa.
“These road bikes are Polaris’ top of the line,” Head says.
Expansion plans are in the works at the dealership. The Heads will add on to the building for a second showroom to display used motorcycles and additional space in the service department. The 6- to 12-month project, which will also include a remodel of the parking area, will double the facility’s square footage from 6,000 to 12,500. Currently, the dealership’s inventory includes 20 new Indian motorcycles, 75 to 100 used cars and about 50 used motorcycles in storage.
The Heads continue to operate their Allstate Insurance agency at the dealership, and an Allstate office in the Kia facility. They affiliated with Allstate in April 2015.
“I wish I’d gone into insurance 20 years ago,” Head says. “I wish I’d had the vision! It adds value to the business as a convenience for our customers, and the competitive rates can save them some money. We’re looking to expand our insurance operations.”
Another added value for Indian customers is the apparel and accessory department at the dealership.
“The aftermarket with cars is nothing like motorcycles,” Head says. “People want to customize their bikes. Apparel, accessories and aftermarket add-ons make up 25 percent of our business now.”
There’s a fan factor involved, too, he adds. “If you can’t get one of the limited-production Jack Daniels bikes — Indian is making only 150 and I’m hoping to get two — you can come by and get a T-shirt,” Head says with a grin.
The dealership employs 12 now, down from 40 when the brothers had the Kia franchise. Other business ventures keep the Heads in a whirlwind of entrepreneurial activity. Stuart is an auctioneer like his father, often donating his services to charities; Steve is a ringman. They continue to run a wholesaling operation, acting as middlemen to acquire preowned vehicles throughout the country and deliver them to other dealers. They keep a collection of classic cars off-site, refurbishing them for sale at classic car auctions. Their current treasures include a 1938 Ford, a 1969 Chevrolet truck, a 1969 Chevy Nova and a 1968 Camaro.
Steve and Stuart Head are both quick to point out that they only work the sale end of their classic-car passion; they don’t do the refurbishing work.
“I can only manage so much,” Stuart says.
His wife, Martha, laughs. “He has to sleep sometime.”
BOB McCOSH CHEVROLET BUICK GMC CADILLAC
Bob McCosh, Owner
Bob McCosh has weathered tough times in the auto business. But nothing — not the Great Recession, not the government bailout, not the consumer backlash — could match the tough time he endured with the loss of his work buddy. Tango, a little black poodle that for nearly 20 years shadowed McCosh everywhere at his dealership, succumbed to cancer in the fall of 2014.
“Tango went to work with me every day for 19 years and 8 months,” McCosh says. “I loved that dog. He was my partner. I didn’t think I’d ever want another dog again.”
Time doesn’t really heal all wounds, and after six months of grieving McCosh still had a hole in his heart and an empty spot at his dealership. Through friend Pete Kemper and dealership General Manager Jeff Miller’s connection to Second Chance, another black poodle appeared in his life last year. This one is Tango Reloaded, McCosh says, or T2 for short. Balance has been restored to the General Motors dealership on the Business Loop. From his spot under McCosh’s desk or following close on his heels through the showroom, T2 is privy to all the inner dealings of the car business, Bob McCosh style. And he doesn’t spill any secrets.
If the dog could talk, he might offer some insight into McCosh’s success. But since T2 is so people-oriented, it might be the same answer McCosh gives: “I have great people. They take this business personally and it spills over to our clientele. I wake up every day feeling fortunate that we have the people we do.”
The son of an auto mechanic, McCosh grew up around the car business, working for his father. A stint in sales and finance at Valley Ford in Florissant led the native St. Louisan to Columbia in early 1984. Gary Drewing hired him to sell used cars at Joe Machens Ford.
“Gary was a great mentor,” he says. “He’s very driven.”
McCosh moved to Joe Machens Honda in Jefferson City in 1989. In 1990, he joined Justin Perry as managing partner of Perry Chevrolet. The next year, McCosh bought into Perry Nissan. Perry bought out McCosh’s share of Nissan in 2003; five years later, McCosh bought out Perry’s share of the Chevrolet franchise. By early 2009, McCosh was in the middle of the GM “government motors” firestorm, which didn’t let up until 2010.
“Business began picking up again in 2010 and we started adding people,” he says. He also began adding franchises — Buick and GMC from Don Albert and Cadillac from Joe Machens. He had 76 employees when he bought the Chevrolet franchise; today his full- and part-time employees number 176. “And very low turnover,” he adds. Employee turnover runs about 5 to 8 percent at the dealership, minimal compared to the industry rate of 35 percent.
For McCosh, it’s all about his people. Intensely private, he wasn’t even planning to put his name on the dealership when he became sole owner, leaning toward calling it Columbia Chevrolet. But a friend pointed out that Bob McCosh was also his father’s name and sentiment won him over.
He is active in the day-to-day business of the dealership. “I try to lead by example,” he says. “I do what I expect people to do, and I act the way I expect people to act. But I’m not afraid to jump in and manage a situation.”
Sales consultant Sonja Ellis appreciates that McCosh isn’t a micromanager, “but he doesn’t miss much,” she adds.
Longtime General Manager Jeff Miller likens the staff’s autonomy to a long rope. “Bob gives those of us he trusts just enough rope to where it snaps, and then he reels it back in. I’ve heard that rope snap a few times.”
Ellis laughs. “I just want a new rope.”
Concerned with what he calls the “Walmartization” of the car business, McCosh wants to preserve the personal style of customer service that local dealerships offer. “An automobile is the second-largest purchase in a customer’s life,” he notes. He credits those relationships his staff has built — honed through camaraderie and personal commitment — as the key to his dealership’s future, even more important than the 13 new GM products headed to the market in the next 17 months.
“Success or failure lies in our own hands,” he says. “Our focus is to be in the game and do the right thing by our customers and in our business.”
Danny Burks & Dave Drane, Owners
Dave Drane and Danny Burks say they are “just folks.”
“It’s hard to be snooty when you’re from Harrisburg,” Burks says.
Humble beginnings aside, Drane and Burks have perfected an “aw shucks” public persona that belies a savvy business sense, running an integrated enterprise that spans auto dealerships, rent-to-own cars, real estate, insurance and a new foray into technology.
The two are the faces of their auto dealerships — University Subaru in Columbia and Capital City Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in Jefferson City — by virtue of their amusing TV commercials.
“Apparently they work,” says Burks. “We get a lot of positive feedback. I guess people enjoy laughing at us.”
The business partners — seventh- and eighth-generation Boone Countians — met in Columbia while working at Dodge City Motors. Their first joint project wasn’t cars, though; it was real estate.
“I couldn’t find a house I liked in Columbia,” Drane says. “Dan had seen some lots in Oberlin Valley he thought I might like, so we went over and looked. We bought the whole subdivision.”
Several real estate deals later, the two partnered to buy University Chrysler and Subaru in 2004. They bought the Capital City dealership in 2005. In 2011, the two sold their Columbia Chrysler franchise to Frank Fletcher, making it easier for two people to run two dealerships. As the only Subaru dealer between St. Louis and Kansas City, and Springfield and Iowa, the Columbia lot bustles with turnover in its 40-car inventory.
“It never seems like we have enough,” Burks says.
“The new car business is really good right now,” Drane adds. “Subaru sales were up 15 percent last year.”
Between the two dealerships, Drane and Burk employ 150 — 45 in Columbia and the rest in Jefferson City, where there is a 500-car inventory. The secret to a smooth operation amid their varied enterprises is good management, they say. “We have very good management teams in both stores,” Drane says. “We have a different kind of relationship with our employees, very long term. We know everybody who works for us.”
The Subaru store has five salespeople, Burks says. “Three have been with us since the day we opened.”
They’re too busy to expand their auto market, the partners say. Other ventures with a claim on their attention include what they call “real estate pockets” of commercial and residential properties; a Global Green Insurance agency they run for the convenience of their customers; and Rent-N-Go Autos, a rent-to-own car lot with locations in Columbia and Jefferson City. Yet the project that has captivated them this year is Vizicar, the computer program they’ve created that they say will revolutionize dealership management.
“There are dealer management systems out there now, but they’re very weak and leave a lot of room for error,” Drane says. “This program works for all types and all sizes of dealerships. You can track cars, insurance, payments, warranties, accounting … At any given time, it gives you a snapshot of the customer, the car, the entire business. Then you can drill down for more information.”
Vizicar’s user-friendly computer interface is helpful, Drane adds. “I could give you a tablet with this program on it, and 20 minutes later you could run a car business,” he says. “It eliminates the need for a lot of thought.”
“Yeah,” Burks quips. “Even guys like us can run it.”
Vizicar launches nationwide this spring. Add another feather in the cap of these good ol’ boys.
“We’ve been blessed,” Drane says. “And we know that.”