Printed in Automotive News March 14, 2011
Dave Wilson spent 26 years building Preston Automotive Group into an 11-brand, 10-store group. But in 2007, his 20-year-old college sophomore son came to him with an audacious suggestion:
Dump Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and GMC. Get rid of Suzuki. Keep Mazda, Nissan and Hyundai. Focus on three stores selling Ford, Lincoln and Mercury.
"David Jr. said sometimes you have to contract to expand. I told him, 'That just dropped right out of your college textbook,'" Wilson Sr. recalls, laughing.
But the next four years, a series of business decisions -- voluntary and involuntary -- made his son's idea a reality. In hindsight, the elder Wilson calls it great advice.
Preston Ford-Lincoln, near Preston, Md., sold 1,441 new Fords in 2010, making it the 93rd-largest U.S. seller of new Ford cars. Across Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore, the store draws customers from seven states.
Wilson Jr., who has worked at his father's dealerships since childhood, says the group's GM and Suzuki stores were underperformers.
Since 2009, the group closed the Buick-Pontiac-GMC store, sold the Suzuki store back to the automaker, lost the Chevy franchise during GM's dealer consolidation and closed the Mercury store when Ford Motor killed the brand.
But at the group's present size, "we can be more available to our customers and more available to our associates," says Wilson Jr.
Wilson Jr., with a bachelor's degree from Northwood University, is vice president of Preston Automotive and manages Preston Ford-Lincoln and the group's Mazda, Nissan and Hyundai stores in Preston.
The group's remaining holdings include a second Ford dealership in Denton, Md., which Wilson Jr. also manages; part ownership in a third Ford store in Pittsville, Md.; and a used-car store in Millsboro, Del.
The Wilsons say they had cultivated a loyal customer base at the closed stores. So the staff contacted each customer to explain the Preston and Pittville Ford stores could perform service work on their GM vehicles and offered free oil changes.
The dealerships also picked up customers' vehicles requiring service covered by a GM warranty, took them to a franchised dealership authorized to perform the work and gave customers loaner vehicles.
At 16, Wilson Sr. started detailing vehicles at a local GMC dealership. In 1977, the summer before he was supposed to leave for college, he started selling vehicles there.
He liked it so much he skipped college, landed a salesman job at Preston Ford and in 1981 at age 22, became a partner in the store he now solely owns.