Lee Payne set ambitious goals when, on his 35th birthday in the mid-1990s, he decided to return to the car business.
Two events, one fortuitous, the other based on formula, helped him achieve those goals.
First, the relatively young entrepreneur whose enthusiasm stretched far beyond his capital, was able to land a Honda franchise. He heads Planet Honda in Golden, Colo., and he added Planet Hyundai, also in Golden, in 2000.
Second, the sound business practices he and his management team applied to a previously slow-moving Honda dealership brought the bottom-line performance he had anticipated.
"We thought we'd have to leave the Denver area to find a dealership, and that would have been somewhat painful, since both Olga (his wife) and I are natives of the area," says Payne.
With the $1.2 million they raised, Payne and his partner, Ron St. John, found Classic Honda on West Colfax Avenue in Golden. They purchased the assets in January 1996 and changed the name to Planet Honda.
Payne, as CEO, and St. John, as general manager, have seen sales of new Hondas increase 147 percent in their seven years of ownership. Classic sold 647 new Hondas in 1995; Planet sold 1,600 in 2002. In 1995, Classic's total volume was $25 million; last year, Planet's was almost $70 million.
The CEO is the son of Leo Payne. In the 1970s and 1980s Leo Payne was Colorado's largest car dealer. Leo Payne left the car business in 1991 and is a rancher in southern Colorado.
As a teen, Lee Payne spent summers working at his father's dealerships and went on to sell Nissans while attending college in San Diego. He spent four years in the mortgage business before the Planet Honda venture.
A Hyundai store was added at the Golden site in December 2000, and the Honda building was renovated in early 2001.
"From our initial payroll of 55 employees in 1996, we have grown to 130 employees," Payne says.
Besides the 1,600 new Hondas sold in 2002, Planet also sold 850 new Hyundais - which made Planet No. 1 in the Denver area for that line - and sold 750 used cars and trucks. Planet is third in the area in sales of Hondas.
In 2002, Planet's dollar volume and unit sales increased about 10 percent over the previous year.
"I was thrilled to get into a Honda store in Denver area, and I am thankful that it worked out. We were prepared to relocate elsewhere in the western United States," Payne says. "We've been pleased with our Honda sales since day one, when we started with an entirely new sales force and concentrated on good basic business practices."
"The addition of the new Pilot and Element sport-utilities have given an added boost to our strong car line with the Civic and Accord," Payne says. "And the demand for the Odyssey minivan has been very strong.
"We've been well-satisfied with the quality of the Hyundai product, and sales have been better than we forecast. If we can improve one thing in our performance for 2003, it will be in sales of used cars."