Matthew Buchanan is a Stanford University graduate and a commercially-rated helicopter and jet-airplane pilot. He also runs his father's dealerships and co-founded Dealers United — a network of dealerships that joined forces to boost their collective buying power from vendors.
"I work over 80 hours a week, but the time flies," Buchanan says. "I really enjoy what I do."
Buchanan initially had no interest in the car business, instead pursuing possibilities in finance and technology. But in 2009, his father approached him, proposing to sell the family's three dealerships: Sarasota Ford in Sarasota, Fla.; Space Coast Honda in Cocoa, Fla.; and Toyota-Scion of Elizabeth City in Elizabeth City, N.C.
"I decided to try the family business and give it a year to see if I liked it," Buchanan says.
He started in the service department at Space Coast Honda doing oil changes. For one year, he rotated through jobs at the dealership. In 2010, he joined Sarasota Ford as a sales manager. He was running the store by 2011. It was during that time that he co-founded Dealers United, which was launched in 2011.
Buchanan says his strong emphasis on Internet sales at Sarasota Ford helped propel the store to an average of 80 online vehicle sales a month vs. 40 a month before he took over. The store is on pace for its most profitable year since 1995, he says.
"We're able to sell more vehicles and spend less on advertising," Buchanan says.
He also replaced sporadic sales and service training with regular monthly sessions. He credits the change with boosting per-vehicle retail profits about $400.
"This year alone we'll probably sell 2,300-plus retail units. That's close to a million dollars in gross," Buchanan says. "That makes a huge difference and goes to the bottom line."
Buchanan also has saved the dealership about $5,000 a month in expenses through better vendor prices received through Dealers United.
He has big plans for Buchanan Automotive Group's future. "We're going to expand again and buy more stores. My goal is to be the biggest private retail group in the country," Buchanan says. "I might be 80 by the time I get there."
-- Jamie LaReau