Detroit-based Mel Farr Automotive Group racked up $503.3 million in sales in 1996, making it the largest African-American-owned dealership chain in the country, according to the Black Enterprise magazine's annual B.E. Auto Dealer 100 list.
The annual Black Enterprise list, begun by the magazine in 1973, ranks the top 100 black dealers in terms of dollar sales for the previous year. The list appears in the June issue of the business publication.
To qualify for the list, the dealerships must have been fully operational for the previous year and be at least 51 percent African-American-owned.
According to Black Enterprise, the 100 dealers on its list:
Had sales totaling $5.93 billion in 1996, up 4.07 percent from 1995 totals.
Employed 9,208 people, up 6.19 percent from the previous year.
Included 26 whose dealership group included import as well as domestic franchises.
Mel Farr's automotive group placed 45th on the Automotive News Top 100 dealer groups in the United States. The Automotive News list ranks dealers in terms of previous calendar year new-vehicle retail sales.
Farr, a 52-year-old former Detroit Lions football star, has been a dealer since 1975. He sold 10,756 new, 9,450 used and 5,466 fleet units in 1996. The Mel Farr Automotive Group includes Ford, Lincoln-Mercury, Toyota, Volkswagen, Mazda, Hyundai and Suzuki franchises in Michigan, Ohio, Texas and Maryland.
In June 1996, Farr opened the 500-vehicle Mel Farr Superstar Used Car lot in Detroit, which targets urban, lower-income customers who may not qualify for conventional financing. He offers financing through his own finance company, Triple M Financing.
Despite a strong 1996, Farr said sales this year have been down at some stores, partly because of high personal debts being carried by consumers and because of some internal restructuring the group is undergoing. Farr would not say how much sales are down.
Two months ago, Farr reduced his finance department staff in his Oak Park, Mich., Ford store by 75 percent because 60 to 65 percent of the retail business at that store is in the form of short-term leases.
Short-term leases are less complicated than conventional financing, and require fewer employees.
'We had some fat, so we're cutting the fat out,' he said. 'Sales have slowed some this year, but I'm hoping we'll have as strong a sales year this year as we had last year.'
Conyers Riverside Ford Inc. in Detroit, owned by Nathan Conyers, is the only dealership that has been on the Black Enterprise list every year since the list began. Conyers placed No. 34 on this year's list with sales of $49.1 million in 1996.
Cornelius Martin, owner of the Martin Automotive Group based in Bowling Green, Ky., was named Black Enterprise's Dealer of the Year. Martin operates Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Dodge, Jeep, Eagle, Chevrolet and Saturn stores in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and Iowa. Martin placed eighth on the list with sales of $114.2 million in 1996.