Darren Matthews, 32
General manager, Matthews Kia of Cartersville
Darren Matthews says he didn’t throw out the old playbook in 2018, when he became general manager at Matthews Kia of Cartersville in northern Georgia. There pretty much was no playbook.
“There were no real processes in place,” he said. “We came in and implemented a complete sales process, in terms of A-to-Z basics: meet and greet, getting the customers’ proper information, getting a manager involved and empowering managers to work the deals.”
His father, Irving Matthews, is dealer principal. The family owns four dealerships, with ambitions to acquire at least two more, Darren Matthews said. Besides Matthews Kia of Cartersville, there’s Prestige Ford of Mount Dora, also in Georgia; and Mazda of Gladstone and Toyota of Gladstone, in Oregon.
Like a lot of rising dealership executives who grew up in the family business, Matthews says he was “destined” to work in the auto industry.
“My father and late mother purchased their first dealership when I was just a year old, and I have grown up around the industry my whole life,” he said. “But, if we wanted to work in the family car business, my dad had one rule: We first must graduate from college.”
Matthews graduated in 2012 from Howard University in Washington, D.C., with a degree in supply chain management and two full-time job offers: a role in the family business or a position at Ford Motor Co., where he had been a field operations intern during college.
The family business won out. Matthews said his father believes the proper way to learn the retail auto business is to start in fixed operations, so his first assignment was to be a service adviser at the Ford store, the family’s original dealership.
Before taking over Kia of Cartersville, Matthews worked his way up to sales manager at Ford of Mount Dora, having been finance manager and business development manager.
At the Kia store, Matthews said he introduced a lot of changes. “Instead of gross pay, we went to salary plus bonus,” he said. “We kind of got rid of the ‘car salesman’ and switched to a ‘product specialist’ approach. We tell them not to worry about the numbers; let the managers handle the numbers.”
The numbers did follow. Matthews said new-vehicle sales at the Kia store increased to 641 in 2021, from 444 in 2019, and the dealership went from red ink in 2018 to having solid and growing profits every year since then.
“My goal,” Matthews said, “is to make this a multigenerational company for our family.”
— Jim Henry