At the recent opening of his renovated Toyota store in Bristol, Tenn., David Hudson was asked by a factory rep how he succeeds at a time when many other second, third and fourth-generation dealers struggle.
His reply was standard business textbook fare: Find great managers and associates, empower them and give them resources to perform.
Hudson, a modest, 38-year-old third-generation dealer, has become a solid, steady operator during a period of uncertainty for many small dealership groups.
"He'd rather have a decent car guy with outstanding leadership skills" to operate his stores than a high-octane mechanical whiz without a passion to lead, said Andrew Gilleland, general manager of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.'s Cincinnati region. "He understands that he isn't going to be at the store every day and therefore needs strong leaders to execute his vision for the dealership."
That vision, Hudson says, is simple: Strive to be a good dealer and stick to the basics.
The post-recession car shopper is more value-oriented than ever -- a cold, hard fact that Hudson has embraced.
You won't find a hair salon or coffee bar at any of Hudson Automotive's stores in Bristol; Madisonville, Ky.; Gastonia, N.C.; or Charleston, S.C. There is no formal corporate mission statement adorning management offices.
The Toyota, Nissan and Chrysler Group stores maintain a comfortable, neighborhood feel -- pictures of Little League teams sponsored by each store, photos of dealer personnel volunteering in the community, service departments that are cleaned daily -- that appeals to no-nonsense buyers and rural families.
"We're no-fuss," Hudson says. "It works for us these days."
David's grandfather, George R. "Hoolie" Hudson, started in the business in 1960 when he bought a Chevrolet-Oldsmobile dealership in Providence, Ky., after several years of operating a used-car lot and selling auto parts. It was a passion as well as a second source of income for the family.
Through the most recent recession, Hudson Automotive remained marginally profitable in 2008 and 2009, and rebounded in 2010 to enjoy its best year ever. It is expected to generate record revenues of $210 million for 2011.
The dealership group's same-store new and used unit sales are up 12 percent through November -- outpacing the overall U.S. market and in sharp contrast to Toyota's 2011 sales performance.
Hudson calls his management style "engaged but flexible." He seeks out honest, hard-working managers who can take a long-term view of the business but also adapt on the fly.