With its sales plunging 52 percent this year in a market up 10 percent, Suzuki is struggling to stay upright. But the troubled brand has provided Scott Pitman his big break.
Now the 42-year-old Wichita, Kan., dealer is the largest Suzuki retailer in the country. And he did it in less than three years in business.
Of course, he's a big fish in a small Suzuki pond. But thanks to Pitman the brand is no small fry in Wichita. In fact, in a market of 600,000 people, it outsells all brands but Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet.
Pitman became a dealer -- a lifelong ambition -- by joining forces with Brandon Steven, a multibrand local dealer. The duo bought an anemic Suzuki outlet and moved it.
Steven was going to acquire it himself, but the two men went way back. So Pitman persuaded his friend to go half-and-half with him. Steven is the silent partner and Pitman the managing partner.
"Suzuki was shoved off to the side in a big franchise group, with the worst building and sales team," Pitman said. "I felt we could focus on it. Brandon had a buy-sell on it already, so we decided to move it and increase the business."
Taking over the franchise in late 2007 from a dealer selling 30 new Suzukis a year, Pitman has transformed the brand in Wichita. In 2008 he sold 758 new cars at retail, plus 250 fleet sales. Last year, while Suzuki sales nationwide plummeted 54 percent, Pitman's store grew to 1,215 new cars -- "straight belly-to-belly retail," he said.