Three entrepreneurs in a single new-car store could be a recipe for disaster, but the Milosch brothers have turned the family's entrepreneurial gene into a competitive strength.
Don Sr., 57, Mark, 55, and Brian, 47, are equal partners in Milosch's Palace Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram in Lake Orion, Mich. In addition to the new-car store, they also run a used-vehicle outlet a couple of miles north and a combination collision shop-Mopar wholesale parts distribution center a mile south.
"And we still get along," adds Mark. "We all get together for every holiday and see each other all the time."
The setup works in part because the Miloschs grew up learning how to plan for growth, adjust plans when opportunity arises and make the most of different skills.
"I think the culture gets passed down in close families," Don Sr. says. "You make things work. Dad molded us to work together."
Their father, also named Don, grew a small used-car lot into a Chrysler franchise. Grandpa Joe dabbled in dealing cars from 1927 to 1960 -- including Hudson, Packard, Dodge, DeSoto and Ford/Mercury -- but his long-term passion was his restaurant-bar and a golf course he developed.
Grandpa Joe sold cars in Lake Orion after World War II until he retired in 1960. He sold his Ford/Mercury franchise because his son Don, a U.S. Navy veteran still finishing his university degree, wasn't ready to take over.
In 1961, Don was. He opened Don's Used Cars on a sleepy two-lane state highway that ran through Lake Orion and toward Detroit, 40 miles south. It was typical for the day, with a dirt lot, light bulb strings above the cars and a keep-the-papers-dry shack of a sales office.
But the business ran so well that just six years later Don landed a Chrysler-Plymouth franchise. He needed a real showroom and decided to build it himself.
"If you tore down the building completely, you needed a building permit, but if you left one wall standing it was just remodeling," Mark explains about his dad's decision. "That's what he did as it became a four-car showroom with plate glass windows."
In 1973 the family added Dodge to the mix. Soon Mark and his brother Don -- later to be known as Don Sr., because yet another Don was to come on the scene -- were working there, and younger brother Brian was stopping by after school.
But the store, like the town it sat in, was small and landlocked. "As Dad started working less, Don and I were very aware of the store's limited ability to support two -- and once Brian grew up -- three families," Mark says.
The next opportunity was Operation Genesis, Chrysler's mid-1990s effort to get dealers to consolidate franchises and improve stores.
"If we agreed to separate Dodge and build a new Chrysler-Plymouth store, they'd give us Jeep," Don Sr. says. "We jumped at the chance."
The new site was at the south end of Lake Orion, just a mile from the Palace of Auburn Hills, home of the NBA's Detroit Pistons. So the new store was called Milosch's Palace when it opened in early 1997 with a huge showroom, service area, separate used-car wing and body shop. By then it was situated along a growth axis of Michigan's wealthiest county.
"That was the turning point," Mark says. "Chrysler said our new place was too big, but we insisted we knew what were doing. Within 18 months it was almost too small."
At this point, Don, Mark and their father were equal partners in the two stores. Brian was still a dealer-track student at Northwood University, his brothers' alma mater.
"I had planned to be a biochemist, but the summer after my freshman year at Michigan State I decided to sell cars," Brian says. "I loved it and I was making money. I decided to get into the family business."
When he was ready, Brian bought his father's share, making the three brothers equal partners. But even after turning the old downtown site into a used-car operation, the Miloschs needed to expand the business -- and Brian needed his own perch.
In 2009, a Mopar parts distributor was purged during Chrysler's post-bankruptcy slashing. Brian found a bargain on a nearby warehouse to house the parts wholesaling business, with its 18 employees and six trucks. "But it was too big," he says.
The Miloschs shifted the body shop there from the Palace. "We immediately turned all the body shop into service department stalls and lifts, which solved our need to meet service demand," Mark says.
The three brothers have worked out their assignments, based on their strengths and their routine. Brian mostly works at the warehouse and body shop. Mark and Don Sr. have offices at the Palace but also share responsibility for the used-car site. Don Sr.'s son, Don Jr., 38, is Palace general manager. The brothers' father, now 87, still stops by the Palace store occasionally.
The brothers meet every other week to talk business. "Usually we agree, sometimes it's two to one," he says. "But if we don't agree, we usually adjust to try to sway the holdout so there's no hard feelings."
Adds Don Sr.: "Everyone finds a niche they're good at. We each back up our brothers because that's what they've earned. If it comes down to a disagreement, it's actually easier with three than two because we can't deadlock."
The family's business flexibility may be tested in the transition to a new generation of Miloschs. Of Don Sr.'s five children, so far one, Don Jr., works full time and one works part time. Mark has five children, but as yet only two are selling cars. Brian's four children are ages eight to 14.
"We're not sure yet on a succession plan," Don Sr. says. "We don't know yet how many will want to make a career of it and Brian's kids are pretty young yet. But some are here learning how to work together."