Elite brands give dealership group a halo

Stunning cars featured at many events

Heath Strayhan, general manager of Park Place Premier Collection, displays a Rolls-Royce Ghost in the showroom. Photo credit: LAURENCE ILIFF

DALLAS -- One of the bigger draws at this year's Dallas-Forth Worth auto show wasn't a German sports-car manufacturer or an American muscle-car maker but a local dealership that broke out the eye candy.

For the March show, the Park Place Premier Collection featured a convertible Rolls-Royce Dawn, Bentley's new Bentayga SUV, a McLaren 570S and three Maseratis, including the Ghibli sedan.

The Premier Collection has become something of a subbrand that projects a halo across the Park Place group's other luxury marques, while also offering the logical next step for customers who can afford it.

"There are great synergies between these luxury brands that we represent in Dallas/Fort Worth and the Park Place brand itself," said Heath Strayhan, general manager at Premier Collection, a five-brand dealership that came together in Dallas starting in 2005.

The collection also includes Bugatti, the supercar brand whose Chiron starts at around $3 million and takes nearly a year for delivery.

The local auto show is just one of many opportunities to show off the Premier Collection's "jewel box" of autos, Strayhan said. There are year-round charity events and a supercar showcase in the fall.

The Premier Collection displays a McLaren carbon-fiber tub. The store was the McLaren global volume leader in 2015, the general manager says. Photo credit: LAURENCE ILIFF

Cachet in every brand

"Park Place is very event-oriented and very community-oriented, and one of the best things that these brands have to offer is there's cachet involved in every brand, there's a little bit of glamour involved," he said, which understandably draws a crowd.

Park Place, founded by CEO Ken Schnitzer from a single Mercedes-Benz dealership in 1987, now also sells Porsche, Lotus, Lexus, Jaguar, Volvo and Infiniti vehicles.

"It really was visionary of Mr. Schnitzer to do this because it might not have made sense from a business-case standpoint at the time," said Strayhan, noting that the superluxury brands have only expanded in volume in recent years.

The Premier Collection is not just a jewel box anymore, but a carefully managed business with its own challenges and best practices, given its products and clientele.

"It's been a really interesting journey," Strayhan said. "I never thought we would have been selling this many cars that are really $150,000-plus." He declined to give sales numbers, but did say the Premier Collection was the McLaren global volume dealer in 2015.

Bentleys gleam in the brand’s “pod” at the dealership. Photo credit: LAURENCE ILIFF

Cede to the customer

The store essentially has a large "pod" for each brand with a hallway separating them, and a customization area for customers who don't want to buy from stock. Bugatti has a virtual showroom because there is no stock.

Sales associates must have knowledge of vehicle customization, the technical aspects of each model and the history of the storied brands.

"The No. 1 best practice at Premier is the ability to consult with our clients on the design and commissioning of a unique automobile," Strayhan said. "They want the car to reflect who they are."

Other top practices are absolute discretion -- because most buyers are not the flashy type even if their vehicles are -- and knowing when to cede to a customer's tastes.

"We had an all-yellow Dawn just arrive; our client was very strong willed," Strayhan said. "And he says, "Guys, I really appreciate your consultancy here, but this is what I want.' The car came in and it was beautiful."

You can reach Laurence Iliff at liliff@crain.com

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