Grapevine auto dealers swapping locations so they can expand

Posted Monday, Jul. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Sometime this fall, two dealerships on Grapevine’s well-traveled row of auto dealers along Texas 114 will swap facilities and move into bigger spaces.

Texas Toyota of Grapevine will move into a radically improved former Grapevine Ford showroom and service building, rebranded with sleek silver sidings and the triple oval Toyota logo.

And Grapevine Ford Lincoln will take over the old Toyota facility, which has been doubled in size to accommodate a two-story sales floor that can display the compact Fiesta, the plug-in hybrid C-MAX Energi and the high-end Super Duty F-Series truck. Both dealerships are owned by the VanTuyl Group, the nation’s largest privately owned automotive group.

The new 82,000-square-foot home of Grapevine Ford will include 71 stalls to service Fords and Lincolns, a quick lane for break, battery, tire, and oil changes, four free charging stations for electric vehicles and a restaurant-catered cafe.

“I’ve been reviewing architectural drawings 10 hours a week for the past three years,” said Chaz Gilmore, 33, general manager of Grapevine Ford Lincoln.

Across the driveway, the Lincoln franchise will occupy a new 10,000-square-foot glassed-in service drive and showroom.

Once the move is completed, the fully staffed Ford Lincoln facilities will add nearly fifty jobs in Grapevine.

When the Van Tuyl Group bought the Ford dealership from AutoNation in 2009, its new home was not guaranteed.

“When we started negotiating for the dealership,” said Gilmore, now a Van Tuyl Group partner, “it was a crazy idea.”

In November 2008, Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors were before Congress seeking government loans. New car and truck sales in the U.S. had plunged almost 20 percent from the previous year. Despite record losses, Ford declined the bailout, and the deal closed as Ford was becoming profitable for the first time in four years.

In 2010, the Van Tuyl Group acquired the North Hills Lincoln Mercury franchise in North Richland Hills shortly before Ford discontinued the Mercury brand. The dealership staff and inventory were moved to the Grapevine facility because of its accessibility and more lucrative market. Nearly 25 percent of nearby households earn over $150,000, and two-fifths earn more than over $100,000, with an average income of $127,510 per rooftop.

“These customers typically have more job stability and better credit scores,” Gilmore said, “which insulate the dealership from the hazards of a recession.”

Also in 2010, the Van Tuyl Group allowed Gilmore to acquire an ownership stake in the dealership with his own funds. Because of his managerial responsibilities, he gained the title of managing partner. In three years, Gilmore enlarged his sales force from four to 47. Within it, he developed a team of 18 dedicated Internet salesmen for customers from the dealership’s website and third-party shopping sites.

Under Gilmore, Grapevine Ford’s revenues soared from $85 million in 2008 to $260 million in 2012. New car and truck sales nearly tripled from 1,085 in 2009 to 2,861 in 2012, 70 percent of which came from Internet leads.

Last year, Grapevine Ford ranked 16th in total car and truck sales among all Ford dealerships. And this month, Gilmore has been selected by Automotive News as a “40 Under 40” achiever in the auto industry.

Grapevine Ford Lincoln is Gilmore’s first general manager job but not his first in the business. The son of a car salesman, Gilmore started washing cars at 17, then selling them part time in college. In 2003, he left for full-time work at Toyota of Richardson, where he became finance director at age 24.

“I always wanted to own a car dealership,” he said.

To learn the business, he took a huge pay cut to become assistant used car director and then was promoted to general sales manager of Van Tuyl’s newly acquired Volvo of Dallas, an isolated dealership with little customer traffic. After two weeks, he told his mentor, Van Tuyl senior partner Steve Grogean, “I made a bad decision.” But Grogean said he told him: “You made the decision. And you have to live with it.”

So Gilmore refocused on growing the business. He rebuilt the sales force, emphasized the importance of every customer and began a buy-back program. Each salesperson made 40 to 50 calls daily offering service customers free appraisals. The dealership hit profitability the first month.

A year later, Grogean, general manager at Toyota of Richardson, invited him back as used car sales director, and before Gilmore’s 29th birthday, he offered Gilmore the general manager job at Grapevine Ford.

“His track record was so impressive over the last 10 years, he earned the opportunity to do more,” Grogean said.

Copyright © 2013 by Barbara L. Kevles. All rights reserved.

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