John Lance is a fourth-generation Ford dealer whose family has been selling cars since 1914. He has three sons in the business, and some of his people are third-generation Lance employees. His dealership generates $4 million in sales a year.
Why would he give all that up to become a Republic Industries dealer?
'A lot of reasons,' says Lance, of John M. Lance Ford in Westlake, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. 'I feel strongly that the whole automotive retail industry is going to change.
'I have visited the AutoNation stores, watched CarMax grow, and I wanted to be a part of that future. I saw that the big public companies enjoyed cheaper floorplanning, lower advertising costs and other savings that an individual dealer like myself just couldn't compete with.
'I'm 62 years old, and I had estate considerations,' Lance adds, 'because I have three sons in the business and I wanted them to be secure.
'Plus, with change comes consolidation, and I knew we had to protect our people. I mean, our Lance Ford family includes brothers, sisters, fathers, sons, three generations of folks. I wanted to see them secure and comfortable.'
These days, Lance doesn't do much of the day-to-day running of his store. He's busy mentoring other dealers who aren't doing so well. In addition, he has added the responsibility of running another Republic dealership, Woodfield Ford in Schaumburg, Ill.
Other than that, the organization he built at John M. Lance Ford has not changed that much, although the horizons of its personnel are broader. The chief financial officer of Lance is now a Republic district CFO, for example, and several of the Lance managers have been earmarked to run their own stores down the road.
And John Lance was right about the expanded resources as part of Republic. He is spending $4.3 million to double the size of the Ohio facility, adding 35,000 square feet. 'If we were still on our own,' he says, 'we would have to stretch the expansion over three years. Now, we can do it all at once.'
Another benefit of joining up with Republic: 'I can associate with really great dealers. I've been a part of several dealer groups, but Republic has some truly outstanding Ford dealers - none in my market territory, thankfully.'
Lance's 150 employees found the change hard at first. They were switching, after all, from a familial to a corporate structure.
That is a daunting change, especially for people with so much common history over so many years. But, like others in their position, the greatly expanded benefits - such as better health care programs, an amplified 401(k) program and other elements - have brought the Lance staff around.
And two of Lance's sons are operating Republic stores; each received Republic stock when the deal with their Dad was completed in May 1997.
'They see a future with Republic,' John Lance said. 'Before we made the deal with Republic, they were worried about whether we could have a viable dealership in 10 or 15 years.'
Lance's decision did take the factory back. 'I talked to Ross Roberts (then Ford Division general manager) on the phone,' Lance recalls, 'and he was complaining that Republic was getting their best dealers. I think he was surprised by that.'
And, like other dealers who have made the same decision, Lance is a bit mystified by the reaction of his colleagues in automotive retailing.
'Most other dealers have never understood it,' he explains. 'A dealer in Chicago called me the other day. He wanted to know why I was still working as hard as I did when I was independent. Most of them miss the point. Big changes are coming in this business. I think, actually, that we are seeing an entirely new way of doing business.'