Frank Kistler, the owner of Saturn of Toledo, faces two hard realities as he weighs his store's future.
First, his Saturn franchise will be terminated Oct. 31, unless he surrenders it earlier.
Second, his prospects of getting another new-car franchise are dim.
"I'm kind of at a crossroads here," says Kistler, 58, as he sits in his store on a bitterly cold winter day. "I haven't decided. I'm reluctant to leave it, but I also think things happen for a reason sometimes."
Saturn of Toledo, one of the original Saturn franchises in 1990, is out of new vehicles. But it has 60 used vehicles on the lot, and the back shop remains busy. The question is, does that add up to a viable business?
Kistler's store sits on Central Avenue's dealership row on Toledo's west side. He would like to get another new-car franchise. But Kistler's prime location turns out to be a handicap: Nearly every automotive brand has a store within a half-mile of his dealership.
Kistler has talked with a couple of second-tier brands and a Chinese automaker that wanted a six-figure payment. "To be frank, I'm not eager to throw a lot of money at a weaker brand," he says.
Kistler is also considering All Things Automotive, a new, Indianapolis-based certified-used chain that also will sell Carquest parts.
Sit on sidelines?
Lean and fit, Kistler is a competitive bicyclist who sponsors a cycle racing team. His jersey from winning an Ohio state championship for his age group hangs in the store.
He doesn't have any kids in the business, and he doesn't have heavy debt. The Saturn store was nicely profitable, Kistler says.
He could sell his real estate and sit on the sidelines for a while. But Kistler says he likes the business and the employees.
He faces another tricky decision: selling his parts inventory to a nearby Chevrolet dealer who will do warranty service when Saturn of Toledo closes. Kistler will get a good chunk of cash for the parts, but selling them would mean the end of Saturn of Toledo's warranty work. Layoffs probably would follow.
Kistler already has closed a Saturn store in Findlay, Ohio, laying off 10 people. His staff in Toledo is down to 24 people from 27.
"The 24 number will, unfortunately, go down once we stop doing warranty work," he says. "There's probably going to be a big drop-off in our service work."