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Rochester Top 100: Automobile dealership revs up its growth

Rochester Business Journal
August 2, 2013

Succeeding in a highly competitive industry takes more than just a good product or aggressive pricing.
 
"We've got a strong employee base that stays very loyal," said Gregory Stahl, owner and president of Bob Johnson Chevrolet. "And a combination of keeping past customers and continuing to add customers has been very big for us."
 
Bob Johnson sold some 5,500 new and used vehicles in 2012 and employs 200 people at its three locations. The dealership's main Chevrolet facility in Greece has 140 staffers, while a General Motors Corp. dealership in LeRoy, Genesee County, and used-car lot in Spencerport-called Websmart Auto-have 60 employees.
 
In 2011, the company had 114 employees and sold 5,180 vehicles.
 
"We expect to continue to grow. We're growing this year," Stahl said. "This year for the month of June we were No. 1 in the country for Chevrolet volume sales, and that puts us No. 1 year-to-date, which is a pretty big accomplishment here in Western New York."
 
Stahl expects to continue to increase his staff over the next year.
 
"We've got tremendous momentum that we've been carrying forward. We've been in this battle for No. 1 in the country for a year and a half or so, and we feel the momentum is going to continue," he added.
 
Bob Johnson has averaged sales of roughly 500 units a month.
 
"We think we can get to 1,000," Stahl said. "We're in a great location. We have a great product. We have high expectations."
 
John Love, vice president and business partner, said Bob Johnson's employees and customer base have been the catalysts for its growth over the last few years.
 
"About 30 to 40 percent of our business each month is repeat business, which is significant," Love said. "A lot of that is driven from customer satisfaction."
 
He described Bob Johnson as a volume dealer that believes in velocity selling, or volume over price. Company executives have forecast sales growth of roughly 11 percent annually, Love said.
 
"We've met that forecast over the last two years and expect to meet that target this year," he added.
 
On the service side Bob Johnson has expanded its operation and services some 1,400 quick-lube customers each month, with 600 more vehicles getting other service.
 
Stahl said the biggest industry challenges the company faces over the next couple of years are gasoline prices and interest rates.
 
"Interest rates have been low for three or four years, and we hope they'll stay low," he said. "They help us make the vehicle affordable."
 
Love also notes that while growth at Bob Johnson has been good for the bottom line, a recent $600,000 expansion to the company's main facility already has been outgrown.
 
"It becomes a challenge in this area for parking, storage of vehicles, etc.," he explained.
 
Love also pointed to leasing as a potential issue. Maintaining leasing customers-which account for 40 percent of Bob Johnson's business-can be a challenge when other manufacturers offer similar vehicles at a lower monthly lease payment.
 
"There's less loyalty and customer retention in leasing because they tend to buy the deal, rather than the vehicle," he said.
 
Bob Johnson Chevrolet was founded locally by Robert Johnson in 1985 when he moved his first dealership from Buffalo to Rochester. Stahl joined the company in 1988 as a salesman at the facility's original location on Stone Road in Greece.
 
Stahl was named general manager in 1994, and the facility moved to its current location on West Ridge Road in 1999. He purchased the dealership in 2001.
 
When Stahl was named sales manager in the late 1980s, the dealership was selling fewer than 100 cars a month. By 2003 Bob Johnson was moving 300 to 400 vehicles monthly.
 
"We've been on a growth mode pretty much for 11 years, and we don't expect it to change," Stahl said.

The Rochester Top 100 program is presented by the Rochester Business Alliance Inc. and KPMG LLP. Launched in 1987, it recognizes the fastest-growing private companies in Greater Rochester. This year’s Rochester Top 100 event will be Nov. 6. For more information, go to rochesterbusinessalliance.com.

8/2/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.
 


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