It's hard to imagine a man biting harder at the bit than Jerry Richardson. A man more devoted to his family than Jerry Richardson. A man happier than Jerry Richardson.
At 58, he is part-owner of Fred Jones Automotive Group in Oklahoma City and officially retired as parts manager in October, though he still keeps an office at the giant Ford-Lincoln-Mercury-Mazda dealership's downtown headquarters so as not to overwhelm his wife, Joy. He's a dapper dresser, and he attributes that to Joy.
'I love loud suspenders,' he says, 'but I'm a Ken doll. My wife says I have absolutely no sense of style, so she picks out all my clothes. I pick out my suspenders and my underwear, and that's about it.'
So speaks the devoted husband. But from the attentive eye he still gives his office, it seems unlikely that Richardson would overlook any detail affecting his business plans.
He has just purchased LPM of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, a Nissan forklift dealership that employs 40. He intends to expand his used-car dealership, Motor City, in Bethany. He has plans to clear and sell or develop the four acres across May Avenue from his old dealership, Dub Richardson Ford. And that's just for starters.
So, with all that energy, why leave the Fred Jones Automotive Group?
'Maybe the challenge wasn't there,' he reflects.
MIGHTY BIG IN PARTS
Dub Richardson was the nation's eighth largest Ford parts dealer in 1998, when Ford Motor Co. brought nearly all its area franchises together to form what was originally called the Oklahoma City Auto Collection.
Meanwhile, Fred Jones Ford had the third largest parts operation. Merging them created the largest of all Ford parts suppliers in the United States - and yet it was practically a seamless deal.
'Both departments run like a clock,' Richardson boasts. 'Quite frankly, they didn't need a lot of guidance.
'What was interesting, though, was that when we finally started getting together, we found that we had two totally different markets. Our cross-purposes were virtually nil.'
His old dealership had built its niche on body shops and related markets in and about Oklahoma, while Fred Jones' parts department had centered on fleet service, both local and nationwide.
'Here we were; we'd been knocking heads all these years, and as it turns out, we had hardly any of the same customers.'
So with that element of the merger taking care of itself, he helped the automotive group consolidate its real estate holdings and decided to step aside, his ledger primed for other investments. For in truth, 'I found out I didn't make a very good employee. I just really was so used to being my own boss.'
A NEAT DEAL
In no way does that suggest he was second-guessing his sale of Dub Richardson Ford, which had led the local Ford market with annual sales of 3,500 to 4,000 new and used vehicles. 'I thought from the beginning that it was a neat deal,' he says. 'I still feel that way.'
The reasons come straight out of Economics 101. Consolidation brought tremendous economies of scale to bear for all the owners. It halved their multimillion-dollar advertising budgets, slashed their floor costs, improved their insurance and workers' compensation coverage and cut operational expenses.
HORSES, COKE MACHINES
Talk of changes rolls easily from his tongue, some for the better, others not.
'I still have reservations about one-price selling,' he says. 'When Fred Jones went into it five to six years ago, they were very successful, but they were the only ones doing it. They were unique. Now that we're all together under one roof, it's become the norm. Now, negotiating has become unusual.'
Fred Jones has since mellowed on its one-price strategy, adopting a lowest-price guarantee that allows for limited negotiation. But that remains a far cry from the historic roots of auto trading.
'My dad, he'd trade for cattle; he'd trade for horses. ... Gosh, I remember one time in our garage, as a kid, he had a Coke machine.'
The pinnacle was the Stavronsky paintings, a set of 30 obtained in a deal for a 30-month lease on a 1971 Pantera. 'His paintings now range from $5,000 to $15,000 apiece,' says Richardson, laughing.
Richardson calls his acquisition of LPM of Oklahoma as 'kind of exciting,' considering 'I knew nothing about forklifts until the last couple months.' He was seeking an investment and it became available, so he jumped.
Though times change, practices grow outdated and nameplates disappear, it can be said that Dub Richardson's adventurous spirit lives on in his son. Yet like his father, Jerry Richardson's not gambling blindly. Set to run LPM is Mark Johnston, Jerry's former comptroller at Dub Richardson. He has other trusted advisers behind his other deals.
He has to, because he's retired.