It isn't easy to build an automobile dealer organization. Just ask the people who have done it.
On the domestic side, it won't be easy to find them because most retail bodies were put together long, long ago. A group of dedicated Fordites built a corps of 10,000 dealers to handle Henry's Tin Lizzie, but that was in the teens and the 1920s. Much the same is true for the other domestic marques, and the principal problem their recruiters faced was pretty much the same: brand recognition.
Many early dealers had never seen or heard of the brand they were asked to sell. A few native Detroiters may have known that the Cadillac car was named for the founder of their city, French explorer La Sieur Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. To others, it was simply a classy-sounding name chosen by Henry Leland.
Dodge? Two brawling, hard-drinking brothers. They were expert mechanics, but at the outset they probably were better known to Detroit's saloonkeepers than to its car sellers.
You get the idea: Brand recognition was zilch when most dealer organizations were fashioned.
And then there are the imports. In America, their brand recognition and dealerships were practically nonexistent half a century ago. Sure, Maxie Hoffman had a few outlets for Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar. But as late as 1954, fewer than 27,000 imported cars and trucks were sold in the United States — less than one-half of 1 percent of the total.
Enter Volkswagen. And equally important, enter Will van de Kamp in 1954. He almost single-handedly built -the VW dealer-distributor organization east of the Mississippi. VW had been around for a while, but the brand hardly was a big factor in the market.
With van de Kamp's retailers, VW sales exploded. Deliveries topped 100,000 in 1959, passed 300,000 in 1964 and 500,000 in 1968. It seemed no imported make would ever outsell VW.