Ed Mullinax, one-price pioneer, dies at age 85
Ed Mullinax, a longtime Ohio auto dealer who pioneered the one-price, no-haggle selling approach, has died at age 85.
Mullinax, named one of the industry's 50 Visionary Dealers by Automotive News in 2009, died Saturday, his son Jerry Mullinax confirmed in an email to Automotive News.
Ed Mullinax's move to one-price selling in the 1970s caught other dealers' attention, and his stores in the 1990s became a key building block for public retailer AutoNation Inc.
In 1968, Mullinax bought a minority stake in an Ford dealership in Ohio -- his first foray into the car business. Two years later, he bought his own Ford store in Amherst, Ohio. At the time, the Amherst store was bankrupt, Jerry Mullinax said, but his father eventually grew the store into the fifth-largest Ford dealership in the U.S. in 1996.
In 1975, Mullinax became the first dealer to institute an unorthodox approach to auto retailing. By going to a one-price, no-haggle selling policy, he sought to remove a major point of tension in the car-buying experience.
"I told the managers, 'You price the car to where we won't sell it for a cent less or a cent more,'" Ed Mullinax told Automotive News in 1996. On the day he started the policy, the dealership sold 40 cars during its first five hours after opening, Mullinax said.
After launching the one-price approach, Mullinax watched his business mushroom into a five-store group. He became one of the largest Ford retailers in the U.S.
His unconventional approach drew the interest of Republic Industries Inc. founder H. Wayne Huizenga. Republic was building its own dealership group, now known as AutoNation, by buying groups of stores in key markets from existing dealers. Toward the end of 1996, AutoNation acquired Mullinax's dealerships in a deal valued at $100 million in stock.
Mullinax, along with his two sons, Jerry and Larry, joined AutoNation -- but Ed left in 1997. Jerry followed suit in 1999, and Larry left in 2000, Jerry Mullinax said.
"My dad was never meant to work for a big company," Jerry Mullinax told Automotive News.
After leaving AutoNation, the family decided to return to the drawing board and start a network of dealerships again. The brothers returned to their father's one-price approach and trademarked a new name for it: "Upfront Pricing."
Now, Mullinax Auto Group operates seven Ford stores: five in Florida; one in Olympia, Wash.; and one in Mobile, Ala. The group ranks No. 98 on the Automotive News' list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., with retail sales of 9,456 vehicles in 2017.
For Ed Mullinax, the return to running family-owned dealerships was a welcome change after a taste of the corporate life.
"I decided I'd rather be with the people and the cars," Ed Mullinax told Automotive News in 2013. "I didn't like traveling around in planes and helicopters."
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