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Auto retailing thrives on new. New vehicles. New marketing methods and advertising campaigns. And new blood. Meet the men and women who make up the fourth annual Automotive News listing of 40 Under 40 Retail: 40 up-and-comers who already are making their mark in dealerships. These individuals are applying the lessons of the past with the techniques of today to carry vehicle retailing into the future. And they're delivering astounding results.

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Melissa LaCarter

POSITION:Controller, Potamkin Automotive Group's Houston-area dealerships

When Melissa LaCarter attends Hyundai meetings, she is consistently one of the few women in the room.

"It's a little disheartening," she says. But also motivating: Her goal is to be the first female owner of a Hyundai dealership in Houston.

LaCarter, a controller for Potamkin Automotive Group, handles the finances for three Houston-area dealerships.

LaCarter entered the business in 1999, after graduating from Sam Houston State University. She worked at a dealership over the holidays in what she thought was a temporary job. After Christmas, LaCarter got a job in the payroll department, but then, as she says, learned "all the different dust in the accounting office."

By working in dealerships, LaCarter says, "You get exposure to the whole business cycle. In a large accounting firm, you get just a small piece of the pie.

"It's always something different," she added. "It's kind of like being the mayor of a small town."

She's even a force behind fixed operations, her favorite segment of the dealership. The fixed ops department is the most exciting because it has the greatest profit potential, LaCarter said.

Too often, LaCarter says, dealers "don't understand the benchmarks of the department, how to make money back there."

With her pricing matrix and inventory management, she has grown the stores' wholesale parts business to sales of $275,000 a month in 2014 with a 24 percent gross profit margin vs. 15 percent in 2010. That growth came by marketing to body-shop vendors and contracting with smaller body shops.

To continue to expand her role at the dealerships, LaCarter has enrolled in NADA Academy's general manager program. 



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