Konner Chevrolet was barely a year away from celebrating a century in business. The family-owned dealership, which opened in 1919, had its fourth generation working at the New Jersey store, and operations were doing well.
But in October 2017, the Konners decided to celebrate a different milestone: the sale of the store.
Running the dealership felt like owning a local hardware store going up against Home Depot, said Dean Konner, 64, who owned the store with brothers Al and Irving. Doable, but difficult.
"Today, to be a family-run dealership, the industry and manufacturer, it's not so much about the people. It's about the numbers," said Konner, grandson of the founder. "What happened is these bigger guys would undercut your price. A little guy can't survive."
It's a conclusion more and more small, family-owned dealerships are reaching as they look at an industry that's being transformed by consolidation, technology, challenges to the ownership model and increasing capital demands.
The National Automobile Dealers Association reports that while single-store owners represented 64.8 percent of the nation's roughly 7,500 dealership owners at the end of 2018, their ranks have shrunk 35 percent since 2008. Meanwhile, the number of dealers with 10 or more stores has increased 62 percent.
"Never before has it been more the case to grow or go," said Gordon Wisbach Jr., a dealership broker in New England.