Early this decade, Chuck Surack realized that Fort Wayne, Ind., where he had built a sound-technology company called Sweetwater Sound, lacked a place to buy many high-end car brands.
Porsche is sold in Fort Wayne, Surack says, but "Ferrari, Bentley, Lamborghini, Range Rover and Jaguar are all brands that were not available in Fort Wayne. You would have had to go to Chicago or Indianapolis."
So in 2011, he refurbished a former dealership site just west of Fort Wayne's downtown -- and reopened it as SweetCars. A Ford dealership had done business at the site until it moved in 2006 to a higher-traffic location.
SweetCars sells only used cars. Surack says his inventory includes "marquee cars," such as Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bentleys, and "daily drivers," such as Porsches and Mercedes. The inventory ranges in age from a few months old to 5 or 6 years old, with most in the 2- to 4-year range.
Surack had no auto retailing experience before launching SweetCars, just a passion for cars.
As a teenager in the early 1970s, he had worked on his parents' "wrecked" Volkswagen bus. "I learned how to do bodywork on it and rebuilt the engine," Surack says. "I put so much sweat and so many gallons of Bondo and so many nights into that thing."
In 1979, that bus became the first official vehicle of Sweetwater Sound, the company that Surack launched out of a mobile home in Fort Wayne. It has grown into the nation's third-largest dealer of high-tech musical equipment, largely through an emphasis on customer service and a well-informed staff.
SweetCars has 10 employees and about 50 vehicles on the lot at any given time.
In 2011, SweetCars sold 118 vehicles, bringing in retail vehicle revenue of about $4.3 million, Surack says. In 2012, it sold 165 vehicles, as retail vehicle revenue rose to $4.6 million. Surack says 2013 looks to be SweetCars' best year yet. Through mid-April, SweetCars has taken in $3.5 million on sales of 109 vehicles.
Surack says having finances and a group of experts helped ease his entry into auto retailing.
"I have professionals that help me," he says. "A professional attorney, a professional accounting firm, a professional banker -- and those folks have all had clients and customers that are in the automotive business. So I leaned on all of them."
He hired a general manager from the Baltimore area with extensive experience running dealerships.