Brian DePouli, 39
Director of construction and facilities, Asbury Automotive Group
Though he’s never sold a car, Brian DePouli has played an integral role in shaping retail operations for two of the largest dealership groups in the U.S.
As head of construction and facilities for Hendrick Automotive Group, and now Asbury Automotive Group, he’s completed 100-plus dealership projects in his 16-year career — ranging from $100,000 service department upgrades to $20 million dealerships.
At Asbury, where he’s worked since 2012, DePouli’s efforts are saving the company $1.5 million annually by bringing maintenance in-house.
While at Hendrick, DePouli conducted an experiment that inspired his maintenance strategy. In Charlotte, N.C., he oversaw the construction of two stores, located side by side and built six months apart. The buildings mirrored each other, except for the showroom.
In one of the stores, the maintenance employee would be on call to paint a wall or repair a broken fixture. The adjacent dealership completed maintenance projects only on an emergency basis.
“After five years, we found that the two stores were actually spending the same amount of dollars on maintenance per year,” DePouli said. “But the [first] store still looked brand-new and the other store looked pretty tired.”
DePouli’s process of consistent maintenance continues at Asbury. In 2018, DePouli was given clearance to bring existing and new Asbury employees into his construction and facilities team to monitor and maintain the stores, perform repairs and relieve the burden of upkeep from store managers. Asbury’s 17-person team of field maintenance staff visit each store on a regular basis. Now, instead of going weeks or months without maintenance, repairs are made within days.
That led to a reduction in spending for outside repair services to the tune of an estimated $1.5 million per year, he said.
DePouli entered auto retail by way of the racetrack.
In 1998, he worked part time as a mechanic for Hendrick Motorsports while attending the University of North Carolina Charlotte to study mechanical engineering. He befriended Marshall Carlson, team engineer and son-in-law of Rick Hendrick.
“When I was doing it part time when I was at school, it was a lot of fun, but when I went out on full-time road crew every week at the track in the rain — it just wasn’t the right fit for me,” DePouli said.
Carlson became vice president of corporate financial management with Hendrick Automotive Group. In 2003, he offered DePouli the construction manager job.
The learning curve was steep, DePouli said, but his mechanical engineering background primed him for problem solving.
“Those skill sets apply to construction. When we’re going to build a building, you’re going to need to determine what the city’s going to require, what the manufacturer’s going to require and what internally we need,” DePouli said.
During the Great Recession, DePouli was laid off as Hendrick ceased construction projects. He freelanced for several years before Asbury hired him in 2012. Leveraging his experience with Hendrick, DePouli rapidly reduced construction costs, finishing projects under budget and ahead of schedule.
DePouli works closely with automakers, balancing Asbury’s own facility guidelines with state regulations and brand-specific facility requirements.
“We know our manufacturer partners really well,” DePouli said. “Because of that, we do our cost savings in the areas that is on the right side of that hard line in the sand. We’d rather get the building done quicker and get to making a return than to spend two months arguing over some tile or something like that.”
The secret, he said, is the support of Asbury’s executives.
“I know many of my peers across the other megadealers are very good at their job, too,” DePouli said. “But I think we have more bang for our buck, and we do more with less in terms of staffing than anybody else in auto retail construction.”
— Jackie Charniga