Location: Milford, Mass.
Opened: August 2012
Brands: Chevrolet, Ford, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram
Sales: Averages 100-150 vehicles a month
Mission: One-stop shop for municipal and fleet vehicles, parts and equipment
Instead of panoramic moonroofs and rear-seat entertainment, many customers of a fast-growing Massachusetts auto dealership are more concerned with light bars and prisoner containment.
Imperial Municipal Partners caters to an important segment that many traditional dealerships aren't well equipped to handle -- commercial and government fleet buyers, including police departments. The store, 45 miles southwest of Boston in Milford, sells vehicles from all three Detroit automakers. In what can be complicated transactions, it takes care of everything from upfitting and equipment installation to custom paint and graphics.
That saves time and money for customers such as the police department in Hudson, Mass., which has bought six cruisers from Imperial.
"It's a one-stop shop. You can get everything done right there," said David Stephens, Hudson's police chief. "And if we have any little issue, they come out and take care of it. They've got my business. I'll be a loyal customer."
The dealership is an offshoot of Imperial Cars, which operates side-by-side Chevrolet, Ford and Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram stores on a sprawling campus five miles down the road known as Imperial City.
In addition to a 1,500-vehicle inventory, the company's main, 52-acre Imperial City site features a barbershop, spa and 1950s-style diner. Each showroom is elaborately decorated in a particular theme: sports for Chevy, rock 'n' roll for Ford and vintage automobiles for Chrysler.
The fleet dealership is much smaller and more low-key, but it has quickly become an important part of the business. When it opened less than two years ago, managers expected to sell about 50 vehicles a month, but it averaged between 100 and 150 units "right out of the gate," said Clay Chase, president of Imperial Municipal Partners.
As a result, the company has decided to build a new home for it. The store is on the former site of Imperial Chevrolet, a location the company originally thought would be adequate for at least five years, Chase said. Until the new building can be constructed, the company also has opened a second fleet location near the Imperial City campus to help meet demand.
"We've had growing pains trying to accept all the business so fast," said Chase, who joined Imperial in 2012 after working 30 years in the fleet business. "It was overwhelming, but it was very nice to see."
Imperial Municipal Partners has about 30 employees of its own, and it shares some workers with the main campus. Chase said few other dealerships "do everything" fleet buyers need.
"They don't have to stop three or four different places," he said, and after the sale, "if there's a problem, there's only one place to go."
By putting Chevrolet, Ford and Chrysler Group's four brands all in the same place, Imperial has created a rare opportunity for customers to directly compare their products. Although the Detroit automakers have cut back significantly on the number of cars they dump into rental-car fleets, they still rely on fleet deliveries for a sizable portion of their sales. Fleet accounts for about one quarter of Detroit 3 sales -- nearly 1.8 million vehicles last year.
Each of the three companies is trying to grab a larger share of the police-cruiser market, recently introducing several new models. U.S. sales of police vehicles totaled about 50,000 last year, according to R.L. Polk statistics released by Ford, which posted a 48 percent increase in sales of its Police Interceptor sedan and SUV.
'A tough, tough business'
Chase said Imperial Municipal Partners has attracted customers from throughout New England. Police departments account for a large portion of its sales, along with numerous public works departments and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. It recently delivered more than 50 prisoner-transport vehicles to state corrections officials.
"It's very low-margin but you pick it up by volume," Chase said. "In order to get the pricing, you need the volume. It's a tough, tough business."