The very first car Doug Moreland sold was a Chevrolet Corvair in Reno, Nev., in 1969. It had belonged to the woman who would one day be his wife. After working long hours for little money in restaurants while in college, he made $100 selling the Corvair off her father's used-car lot and was immediately hooked on the business.
Moreland, 65, now owns all or part of 15 dealerships -- 13 in Colorado, plus one each in Las Vegas and Avondale, Ariz. He sells Hyundai, Mazda, Kia, Volkswagen, Buick, Fiat, Mitsubishi and GMC, but says his heart belongs to Chrysler and Dodge, the first franchises he held. His 15 dealerships combined sold about 1,450 new and 1,055 used vehicles per month in 2012.
Moreland's colorful "Dealin' Doug" TV commercials, with him wearing a ring on each finger of both hands, are ubiquitous across Colorado.
He spoke with Staff Reporter Larry P. Vellequette.
Q. When did you become a dealer?
A. My father-in-law let me work through the different chairs at his dealership in Reno, and I eventually rose to become general manager.
In January 1980 I came to Denver with an opportunity to buy the Cherry Creek Dodge store in Aurora, Colo. I left my wife and three kids back in Reno. The place was a basket case, bleeding money, and we cleaned house in 1980 and turned it around. It was right after Lee Iacocca won the loan guarantees in 1979. We made good money there in 1981 and sold more cars than anybody in the Denver business zone.
How did you expand your holdings?
My goal was to own one store, but in 1984 I had the opportunity to buy a second store, a Chrysler store in Fort Collins, Colo. At one point, we got up to about 18 stores -- I had a Honda store in Chicago, for example, and stores in Sacramento, Reno, Phoenix. I sold six stores to Lithia in 1999.
Your dealerships include eight Chrysler Group stores. Why so many?
We're pretty strong Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep people. I think Chrysler management is one of the best ones when it comes to the dealer body. They know one thing: They're not going to get anything done if the dealers don't make money. Chrysler knows that you can get the dealer body to do a lot of things if they're making money. I bleed Chrysler blue and I turn Dodge red.
What is the biggest challenge facing your Chrysler dealerships?
We're fighting to keep some local marketing. When [Chrysler] went bankrupt they took away the local dealer ad associations. I think that's our biggest challenge, to keep our regional marketing in our control.
Are you happy with Chrysler Capital?
It's getting better and better. They're learning and they're trying to make a dent in the market. They're buying everything that they can, and they're making some progress.
Can you tell a difference in your F&I operations over the last year?
It's probably better right now than it was in 2008. We still do a little bit of business with Ally, but Chrysler Capital is definitely acquiring the mindset of a captive. It's not like the old Chrysler Financial, but it's damn close.
They're working on deals, and they're working on ways to make a deal, instead of trying to figure out how to turn them down. Right now, we're pleased. It seems like we're getting a little more in the lease business than we were before.
In terms of product, what would you like to have more of?
I'd of course like more Jeeps. We're pushing hard to get more Cherokees. I think that's going to be a home run. I think we're going to bite into the RAV4s and all those little suckers. Chargers, too. You do the cheapie Charger with the right rebate and that thing goes flying off the lot.
Every vehicle we have has a price point where somebody will buy it. That's how you move the metal. People will forego new technology for the money.
What has Chrysler had a hard time hearing?
As a manufacturer, they want to have control of the marketing. Sometimes I don't think they spend what they need to spend in terms of their launches and the sustainability of some of their product. The manufacturer's job is to build the product that the consumer wants -- build it, back it and provide some product marketing, then let the dealer do the sales marketing. Chrysler's done a poor job over the long term in launching the product.
What are your strongest brands?
Jeep is the strongest, but what's really coming on right now is Buick. We're getting a lot different customer coming in -- they're affluent, they love the vehicles because they're good-looking. And what's helping us in this town is Peyton Manning, because he drives a Buick in real life.
What's wrong with Fiat?
We have to have some more product. They need to commit to the marketing and tell us what's in the pipeline in terms of product. I was very impressed with a lot of the Fiats that I saw on the streets over there when I was in Europe, and I think a lot of those vehicles would sell here if they brought them.
We're making money in our Fiat store, but that's because we've got it set up right.
They're good little cars, and there's a definite market for it. But you don't sell 20 cars a month and spend $30,000 a month advertising. It doesn't work.
You're a staple on TV across Colorado. Where did "Dealin' Doug" come from?
We have our own little ad agency. When I worked with my father-in-law in Reno, I did the ads. The guy prior to me was a local anchor man, so I convinced my father-in-law to let me do them. The ads haven't really changed. People want to know selection, price, inventory, and that we'll deal.
If I'm a small way away from a deal, I'll flip a coin with the customer over price. We'll take anything in trade -- horses, diamonds, property sight-unseen. We tell people that if we can't meet a deal, we'll give you the car. I've never given one away yet, and I don't plan on it.
It just evolved. It just kind of happened. I've become kind of an institution. I had eight people on my two-week trip in Italy come up and ask, "We're from Denver. What are you doing here?"