Scrivner's firm in 2016 introduced Shuster to Brandon Steven, a dealer in Wichita, Kan., who had his sights on growing out West. And after a lunch meeting at the former Montage Beverly Hills hotel, Shuster and Steven agreed to a handshake deal, Scrivner said. Part of the terms included Shuster handling construction of the dealership and moving into the new digs before Steven would buy the store.
"And you could understand that," Shuster said. "There's a lot of moving parts when you're building a huge facility."
The project was rife with construction delays, challenges from the city regarding special permitting and zoning, plus two closing postponements because of coronavirus restrictions, Scrivner and the partners recall.
Steven, who owns seven dealerships in Kansas and Missouri through Brandon Steven Motors, said he had been looking for a West Coast store for about a year. He had reviewed dozens of properties and franchises before he was shown the new Honda Downtown L.A. site. He was immediately sold.
"Honda in California is obviously gold," he said.
Steven admits he was optimistic about how long construction would take. The drawn-out process, delays and added costs were discouraging at times, he acknowledged.
He said he typically tries to buy a dealership every year to 18 months, but during the three-plus years he worked to close the Honda L.A. deal, he didn't buy any other stores.
"I do believe things happen for a reason, and I definitely wanted this store. I could have walked away from it several times," he said. "It never entered my brain. Never once did I think we weren't going to close."
Amid all of those delays, property values around the building site soared as development continued in the area, including the construction of the $1.5 billion Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.
Scrivner said the unique deal involved a lot of risk for all parties. Operating with just a handshake deal for some time, the individuals could have terminated the agreement. But Scrivner, who described Steven as "having the patience of a saint," said there was trust among the parties.
Steven and Shuster said they quickly became friends. Shuster remains dealer principal of the store and continues to handle day-to-day operations for Steven.
But Steven said he ultimately closed on the store at maybe the worst time, considering the unforeseen arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. The dealership was selling a combined 5,500 new and used cars in 2017 and 2018 and had reached top 20 status nationally for Honda, the partners say. But sales took a significant hit because of the pandemic.
Last year, the store sold a combined 3,171 new and used vehicles. And while sales have rebounded some, averaging about 300 combined new and used a month, Shuster and Steven say it's a long way from its true potential in the new facility. It currently ranks at No. 42 nationally in sales.
"I believe this store's going to be huge," Steven said. "And it will, once the pandemic is behind us and we get up to capacity — just watch out."