Q&A WITH GREG JACKSON | CEO, PRESTIGE AUTOMOTIVE GROUP

Minority dealers still don't reflect minority purchases

Jackson: Access to capital for minorities is a huge problem.
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In 2004, Greg Jackson operated a dozen General Motors and Ford Motor Co. dealerships. His Prestige Automotive Group was the first black-owned dealership group to reach $1 billion in annual revenue.

Today, the Prestige CEO owns four dealerships in southeastern Michigan that sold 10,177 new Cadillac, Ford, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz vehicles last year.

Jackson spoke with Staff Reporter Arlena Sawyers during the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers' annual conference in Miami Beach, Fla., in July.

Q: How is business?

A: We have fewer stores but things are great.

What are your strongest brands?

Probably Ford for overall volume. A lot of sales depend on what brand you have and what location. For instance, my Toyota store sells 600, 700 Toyotas, but if that store was anywhere south of Michigan it would probably sell over 1,000 easily.

How would you characterize the current state of minority dealers?

I'm concerned because we still do not have adequate representation that is reflective of the same percent of cars that minorities buy within the country.

Minority dealers, and black dealers in particular, used to sell mainly domestic brands. That has switched to mostly imports. Why?

Most minorities started with domestic brands. The recession came, and an amazing number of people -- hundreds -- went out of business. Some minorities were undercapitalized. Others were let go as part of GM's and Chrysler's bankruptcy processes; they were let go disproportionately. I have a GM dealership that I bought last year, but I lost five GM dealerships during the recession.

The imports were not hit as hard during the recession. Most were not overdealered so their dealers tended to fare better.

Are the domestic brands doing enough to recruit minority dealers? Their programs appear less robust compared to before the recession.

My quick answer is no. But the only thing that will prove whether they are is an increase in the number of dealers. You can have all the programs you want, but if you don't produce increases in numbers, it doesn't matter.

What can minority dealers do to recruit and nurture other minority dealers?

Minority dealers have an obligation to recruit, to train, to hire other minorities and invest in those minorities when they can.

Have you done that?

I have recruited, trained, hired and, yes, I have invested in several guys over the years. But that by itself is not going to cause a measurable difference in the number of minority dealers. Minority dealers in America today are not as wealthy as the overall pool of dealers and not able to invest at a level to make a considerable difference. But it is a tool.

Are you looking to expand your holdings?

I've owned as many as 18 auto dealerships. When the recession hit, I believe I had 11. I'd love to have more outlets, but I want them to be volume outlets representing quality brands that I can be proud of, with manufacturers [with which] I have a real partnership. So, yes, I'm continuing to look. I'm just more discriminating.

Any brands in particular that you'd like to have?

I still think Chevrolet is a wonderful brand. I think Chrysler and Dodge are wonderful brands. On the import side: Lexus, Audi and BMW.

I'd like to add a Mercedes store or another Cadillac point. Any brand can be a really good brand if you're in the right location with the right product.

The large dealership groups are grabbing dealerships. What does that competition mean?

I think it is going to get harder and harder, particularly for minorities, to get into the auto dealership game.

One reason is because the manufacturers don't seem to have the same sensitivity toward minorities that they once did, even in the face of overwhelming demographics and data that suggests that minorities by 2043 will be more than 50 percent of the country, that we buy an overwhelming amount of cars and that we're more brand loyal than other consumers.

Second, there are some realities that are not controllable. The pricing of dealerships has increased substantially. Access to capital for minorities is still not what it is for some others in America. That is a huge problem.

When did you become a dealer?

September 1993. This is my 21st year in business. I went to a seminar that Ford was having in Chicago in 1987. They were seeking people with an entrepreneurial bent to become auto dealers. I heard about it and just checked it out.

I knew some people involved with General Motors, and I got involved with General Motors over the next year. I graduated from the GM minority dealer academy in 1989.

Has it been everything you thought it would be?

I've been very blessed. It's afforded me income much more than I ever dreamed I'd have and so I am not displeased. I'm very, very, pleased with my ride so far and what the future holds for me.

You can reach Arlena Sawyers at asawyers@crain.com.


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