Willard Kirby Auto Group has established a significant footprint in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, and it has done so in a unique fashion. CEO Sean Kirby along with CFO Steve Capone and partners Billy and De Willard have many years of experience in the auto business, and a combination of experience and timing has allowed this team to build a strong portfolio of dealerships.

“I started learning from my father, who was a Pontiac dealer,” Kirby says. “I also attended Northwood University, which has a program that teaches you how to run car dealerships as part of its business program. Over time, I got a feel for the financial aspects of how dealerships operate.”

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Walker Automotive is happy to be the proverbial “big fish in a small pond” when it comes to the locations of its dealerships. “Our plan has always been one of smart growth, and we choose to concentrate very specifically in our area,” says Lawrence Searcy, operations director of the dealership group. “Over the years, we have looked at different opportunities outside of our traditional sales area, but it just seems that growth here at home is the way to go. Building on our 96-year retail history in the area has been very beneficial.”

The fourth-generation family owned company owns and operates three campuses encompassing multiple dealerships. Brands offered by the group include Buick, GMC, Mitsubishi, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Toyota, Scion, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep Ram and Honda. All of its locations are within Alexandria, La., a city with a population of just under 50,000 – but a trade area of more than 400,000 people – in the geographic center of the state. “We are literally at a crossroads within the state,” Searcy says.

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Much has changed for the Texas-based Toyota of Irving since it was formed nearly a half-century ago. The company was founded after Vernon Schoemaker was visited by Toyota Motor Company in Amarillo where he was selling used cars at the time. Toyota offered two open points in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, and Vernon choose the Irving point, moving from Amarillo in November 1968. The company got its start in downtown Irving and evolved to encompass six different locations before becoming a single-location operation in August 1978.

“The thing that sets us apart is being family owned and operated for more than 46 years,” Vice President David Schoemaker says. “We are the oldest owned and operated Toyota store in the Metroplex, and ours was the 57th dealer in Texas back when the store opened in 1968.”

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Achieving lasting success in the truck sales industry requires establishing long-term relationships with customers. That formula has helped Tom Nehl Truck Company be a market leader over the past half century. “Sell the right truck for the job and back it up with a team of parts and service people dedicated to keeping the truck on the job” is the company’s philosophy,” CEO Steve Bacalis says.

Unlike automotive sales, purchasing a truck is not an emotional decision, General Manager Chuck Sowers notes. Rather, it is an important business decision in which “many factors come into play” depending on how the truck will be used, he says.

As a result, the sales staff at Tom Nehl Truck Company must understand customers and their specific needs. “You really need to know your customer. No matter what the application is, we have the truck that fits. You have to know something about trucks,” Sowers says.

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The basic tenets of customer service have endured for more than three decades at Spartan Auto Group. “One thing that will never change in the car business is a handshake,” Derek Criscuolo says. “We shake every customer’s hand.”

Based in Lansing, Mich., Spartan Auto Group sells new and pre-owned vehicles from a variety of automotive brands, including Toyota, Scion, Lexus, Volkswagen, Mazda and Infiniti. Criscuolo serves as the general manager of two of its locations and oversees others with his sibling and partner, Deanna McLellan. He says the company started operations in 1984.

His father, owner Rosario Criscuolo, bought its Spartan Toyota location that year in Lansing. “He started the business when he was 32 years old,” the younger Criscuolo says, adding that his father later acquired a Lexus location in Lansing in 1990. 

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Scarborough Toyota Scion has grown to be one of the top dealerships in its region after more than 30 years for one main reason. “Our message is one of unwavering commitment to the Toyota brand and our core value of putting our customers first,” the Toronto-based dealership says. Scarborough Toyota Scion was established in 1979 and has been in its current location since 2011. 

The dealership’s team of product advisors works closely with customers both in-person and online to make their car-buying experience “fun, easy and financially advantageous,” Scarborough Toyota Scion says. 

“We offer the largest on-site inventory in Canada,” the dealership adds. “Our knowledgeable product advisors can help customers find the right vehicle to suit their needs.”

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The boom in hydraulic fracturing of the Bakken Shale is affecting all of North Dakota – especially the state capital of Bismarck, both legislatively and commercially. This is good news for Puklich Chevrolet in Bismarck, which is approximately 100 miles south of Minot, N.D., where the oil business is prospering. Some oilfield employees commute to the oilfields from Bismarck, and they need rugged, reliable vehicles to do so.

“We sell about 60 to 65 percent trucks,” General Manager Steve Zaun calculates. “We’re fairly dependent on agriculture and the oil companies. Housing is at an all-time high and continues to go up.” That is creating an inventory challenge for Puklich Chevrolet. “The demand still continues to be high,” Zaun reports.

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The difference between Palmetto57 Automotive Group’s two dealerships and the dealerships operated by many of its peers is apparent from the moment a customer walks through the front door. “We are a lively bunch. The music in our showrooms is a little bit louder than most, and our staff is a little friendlier, which helps create constant activity and motion,” says Chris Hayek, general manager of the Miami auto group’s Volkswagen dealership. “We have a saying: ‘no negativity allowed here.’ We have an upbeat atmosphere that’s all about taking care of our customers, making deals and having fun.”

Palmetto57’s managers and salespeople all bring a high level of energy to their jobs, a quality the company seeks during hiring and encourages through training and development. “We look for good, positive people,” he adds. “Our ultimate goal is to make sure our customers have fun when buying a car.”

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