CLARKSTON, Mich. -- After toiling to revitalize separate single-point dealerships in the Detroit area, two childhood friends merged and expanded operations to compete with larger groups.
Sam Slaughter and Katie Bowman Coleman created Sellers Auto Group by pooling their resources -- his Sellers Buick-GMC store in Farmington Hills, Mich., and her Bowman Chevrolet in Clarkston.
"It's not an acquisition, but a partnership," said Slaughter, 52.
The distinction is key. Without making a big payout to a seller, the two partners have invested their combined assets in growth and to develop proprietary technology called YourOnlineDealer that allows online customers to choose, buy, finance and even take delivery of a vehicle without visiting a dealership.
The partnership contract wasn't final until this year, but the two have been working toward the arrangement since 2010, well before the 2013 opening of Sellers Subaru in Macomb Township, a northeastern suburb of Detroit.
"We wanted to grow and be part of something bigger, but we both also wanted to remain in control as dealers," said Coleman, 50. "We couldn't have done this if we hadn't been friends since we were kids."
They met as children living in a close-knit community in Bloomfield Township in Detroit's northern suburbs.
The partners just opened a fourth location up the road from the Chevy store, the site of the closed Randy Hosler Buick-GMC. Coleman moved the collision shop there to create more service space at Bowman Chevy.
A Sellers Bowman Auto Center banner is lashed to the building until the permanent signage arrives for the used-car center, but inside is the large shared office where they jointly run their operation.
Both desks face the door, Slaughter on the left, Coleman on the right, with a conference table for impromptu meetings with managers.
"We depend on our general managers to run the stores day to day," Slaughter said. The partners also have five senior managers that handle used cars, business development center, marketing and advertising, finance and accounting and information technology.