Dealers Jim Tino Jr. and Martin Gubbels could not be more different or have more in common.
Tino, 53, is a city slicker. His family owned two dealerships selling Chevrolet and Subaru about 30 minutes from midtown Manhattan in Union, N.J. They sold nearly 3,000 new and used cars a year.
Gubbels, 50, owns Big Sky Ford-Lincoln in Torrington, Wyo., near the Nebraska state line. Torrington's population is about 6,500 people with just as many livestock, he says. The store's sales peaked at about 400 vehicles a year.
Yet the two men have battled similar business challenges. Despite being profitable, the Tinos sold the stores to a larger group in August. Gubbels' dealership is for sale now.
"I can't afford to grow," Gubbels said. "I have a sign that sits on my desk that I point out to customers that reads: "I started with nothing and I have most of it left.' That sums up the problems of being a small-store dealer."
Regardless of geography, market size or franchise, many dealers with a single point or a small group find they must either become bigger or sell to a bigger group. The retail business model now favors big groups, they say, which can more easily hit factory sales targets, afford dealership improvements and achieve cost benefits. Experts say the dealerships that do survive as small businesses will be in niche markets where community ties anchor them.