Closing up shop was not an option for Scott Pitman, America's best-selling Suzuki dealer.
After Suzuki announced in November that it would stop U.S. vehicle sales this year, he couldn't fathom leaving the business and laying off 86 employees at his Suzuki of Wichita.
So Pitman, 45, bought half the equity in a crosstown Subaru store owned by a business partner and moved the operation to the site of his Suzuki dealership.
His plan: Adopt many of the practices for Subaru that made Suzuki of Wichita the brand's top-selling U.S. store, including aggressive regional Internet marketing and noncommissioned sales staff.
"We had to move swiftly," said Pitman, who bought into the Subaru franchise in March. "Those employees were counting on us to lead."
Pitman said he is now selling Subarus as he prepares for $700,000 in store improvements to bring the dealership to brand standards.
He is optimistic about sales because Subaru's vehicles, with all-wheel drive and high safety ratings, have broader appeal than the low-priced Suzukis. Subaru also puts more resources into national TV and Internet advertising than Suzuki did, he said.
"We think we can make some waves," he said, adding that the store has had no layoffs.
He expects that within a year Subaru of Wichita will sell 100 new vehicles a month and replace the new-car volume he is losing with Suzuki. Suzuki of Wichita sold 1,325 new vehicles in 2012 and 1,809 used ones.
By comparison, the Subaru store at the previous location was selling fewer than 50 new vehicles per month, he said.
Aaron Wirtz, social media director at the store, said switching the Web site from Suzuki to Subaru has been surprisingly smooth. Subaru has been sending videos and inventory feeds of Subaru products to drop immediately onto the Web site and to use for other marketing applications, such as YouTube, Wirtz said. Under Suzuki, the store shot most of its own photos, Wirtz said.
Hundreds of customer reviews for Suzuki of Wichita on Dealer-Rater.com and Google have been carried over and listed under Subaru of Wichita, Wirtz said. Those reviews help sway shoppers to choose the store and would have taken months to replace if they hadn't been transferred, he said.
Pitman said he will continue to price vehicles near their final selling price, while allowing "limited negotiation."