Will non-residents buy more area car dealerships?

Published: Friday, July 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 30, 2005 at 11:37 p.m.
The Scott-McRae Group, a private family-owned company headquartered in Jacksonville, was expected to complete the purchase of Kraft Motor Cars, 3525 NW 97th Blvd., late Thursday. The dealership will be called Duval Motor Cars of Gainesville.
This is the second acquisition of a Gainesville dealership by Scott-McRae this year. In January, the company acquired University Mazda and renamed it Duval Mazda of Gainesville.
Duval Motor Cars of Gainesville will continue to carry new Mercedes-Benz, Buick and Jeep vehicles in addition to a variety of pre-owned vehicles. Bill Stanton has been named president/chief operating officer of Duval Motor Cars of Gainesville. Stanton had formerly been president of the Autolease division of the Scott-McRae Group.
Now that the Jacksonville-based group has acquired a second Gainesville car dealership, does this mean more out-of-town owners will be scooping up local new car lots?
Not likely - because many of the local dealerships are already owned by non-residents.
Tom Grimm, general manager of Palm Chrysler-Subaru and president of the Gainesville New Auto Dealers Association, said it's not unusual - actually, it's quite common - to have large groups own dealerships in other locations. His store is owned by Palm Auto Group, which has about 10 lots in the Punta Gorda area.
"Locally owned is a nice touch. In Gainesville it works out real well, but in general it's not a big deal. The general managers are still local," he said.
He said there wasn't any particular advantage to being locally owned rather than being part of a big operation. "The cars all cost the same."
Joe Alvarez, a past president of the association and dealer/operator at Gainesville Ford-Mitsubishi for the past five years, agreed it's common for dealerships to be owned by out-of-towners, and it shouldn't have much effect. "I think it all comes down to the individual operator and how they run their business."
He added, however, "sometimes absentee ownership by someone in other towns can work adversely against them," explaining that not only are owners not on-site to keep an eye on things, "it can be somewhat callous because of rigid standards a home office puts into effect for outlying dealerships, running them like a tentacle.
"Scott-McRae is a terrific group. But we sometimes see people come and go, trying to buy up the town."
Gainesville Ford-Mitsubishi is locally owned and has been in business here since the 1930s. "People know us," Alvarez said.
Santa Fe Ford-Suzuki in Alachua is owned by John Waitcus of Gainesville. General sales manager Ray Thomas said, "It doesn't make a difference" to customers if a dealership is owned by a local entity or out-of-town interest. "People go for the best prices, and for a particular type of vehicle."
The lot is located on U.S. 441 west of its intersection with I-75, but that doesn't seem to deter people driving up there from Gainesville to shop for a car, Thomas said. Santa Fe Ford-Suzuki has been open for 19 years.
Brasington Cadillac-Saab Inc. in Gainesville has been locally owned and operated for about 70 years.
Roland Daniels, who has owned Saturn of Gainesville for 10 years, said, "There may be exceptions, but I mostly find that locally owned dealerships are more community minded. But locally owned or distance-owned, either one can provide good service - and either can provide bad service."
"I don't know if being involved in the community translates into sales. But we're here every day, our family members are here, in the schools. I think if you're from out of town, you may not feel as compelled to participate in the charities and different fund drives," Daniels said.
Gainesville Dodge, 24 years in Gainesville, is run by local managers and employees, but its owner and president Art Sullivan lives in South Florida. Gainesville Nissan is locally owned by its general manager Dana Hunter.
Gainesville BMW and All Pro Volkswagen on NW 13th Street has been owned by Bryan Myers since August 2000. A third dealership selling VW's, BMW's an Porsches is in Ocala. Myers lives halfway between the two towns.
Elton Wetteland, general manager in Gainesville, said the advantage to locally-owned businesses "is we get involved in the community. We know who needs the donations."
He also said hands-on ownership means "we have the pulse of the community. It's sometimes hard to call the shots from a long way away."
Wetteland added that the Scott-McRae Group is well respected in the industry "and I am sure they will put in local people who will get involved in the community."
The Jacksonville company was founded in 1916 with the opening of Duval Ford in Jacksonville. Today, the organization owns several car dealerships in Jacksonville, Gainesville, Tampa and Brandon, as well as U.S. AutoCredit, Autolease, Matrix Data Solutions and Scott-McRae Advertising.
Its 900 employees are spread among five southeastern states.
Marina Blomberg can be reached at 374-5025 or blombem@gvillesun.com

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