How do you become a megadealer in small and midsize markets? Ask Todd Green, whose family has sold cars in central Illinois for more than half a century.

The 16-franchise Green Family Stores consist of dealerships in the state capital of Springfield as well as Peoria, Jacksonville and Moline. Another Green outlet is in Davenport, IA.

They add up to big business in the heartland. The company tagline is, “It’s not about cars, it’s about people.” The success of the Greens hasn’t gone unnoticed by some publicly owned megadealer chains.

“We’ve had two publics initiate talks with us this year, and after spending some time with them and being flattered, you more deeply love this way of life,” says Green, a second-generation dealer.

He owns Green Nissan, Green Lincoln-Mazda, Green Hyundai, Green Toyota, Green VW-Scion-Audi and Green Dodge-Mitsubishi-Kia-Subaru in Springfield, as well as Green Chevrolet-Buick-GMC in Jacksonville.

With his sister Jill Green, he opened a second Hyundai dealership in Moline in November.

Jill Green also runs two stores representing General Motors and Chrysler brands in Davenport. Brother Jeff Green runs Green Chevrolet and Green Finish Line Ford in Peoria. Four third-generation members of the family business now work for the dealership group.

The family manages about 580 employees among all stores, with 30 more being added with the new stores.

Todd Green’s Hyundai, Lincoln, Mazda and Nissan outlets ranked No.74 on the 2012 WardsAuto Dealer 500 with total revenues of $125.1 million in 2011. Green Dodge-Mitsubishi-Kia-Subaru was No.455.

Group revenues jumped from $480 million to $517 million. Todd Green expects 2012 revenues will exceed $650 million, as auto sales improve and more business is brought in by the second Hyundai dealership and a new Nissan certified used-car store.

“It's hard to believe not long ago our group was $100 million in size,” he says.

Jeff Green describes operations as fairly decentralized, with family members making important management decisions jointly. 

“None of us are too proud to ask for suggestions,” he says. “Each of my siblings is different and views things differently. I just signed a buy-sell to purchase another store and never would have gotten the deal done without getting my siblings’ opinions.”

Jeff Green describes himself as more domestic-franchise oriented while Todd deals mostly with the import side of the business. “He has great ideas that I can carry over into the GM and Ford franchises,” Jeff Green says.

He borrowed a few of those ideas to improve efficiency, such as having service writers rather than designated cashiers settle bills with service customers.

“Seventy percent of all service tickets are paid by credit card, so it’s a quick swipe,” Jeff Green says, adding that import stores have “about 30% less red tape and paperwork.”

Todd Green worked as a service manager for his father’s store in Peoria. He arrived in Springfield in 1983 when his family purchased Pendleton Toyota, since renamed Green Toyota. He became its dealer principal.

Other opportunities followed. “We grew the business when the opportunity to buy Howard Hembrough’s Volkswagen-Audi-Porsche store came up,” he says.

He became a Hyundai dealer in the mid-1990s. It was a bad time for the South Korean auto maker. Now Toyota and Hyundai models are Green’s biggest sellers.

But the family business dates to 1957 when Ray Green purchased a Chevrolet, Cadillac and Oldsmobile dealership package in Monmouth, IL. Ray Green served as the National Automobile Dealers Assn. chairman in 1990.

Todd Green says he started working for his father as a sixth-grader, mowing the dealership lawns and cleaning the lots. “When I graduated from college, I started as a service manager.”

Todd Green gives a lot of credit to his father, Ray, whom he calls his best friend. “My father was wonderful with us,” he says. “He let us build our reputations as dealers. If he felt we were missing something, he’d call us and talk it over, but never step in and interfere. It was very rewarding.”

The patriarch still is active, mostly in charity work.

Todd Green doesn’t see the family’s success as extraordinary. He does see continued prosperity.

“If a dealer is in our position and doing a half-billion dollars in sales, and is doing it the right way, if he sold out to someone, where would he put the capital (after taxes) and get anything more than 4%?” he says.

He takes pride in how efficiently the Green dealerships are run. He credits the staff, particularly general managers and comptrollers.

Other points of pride: customer and employee satisfaction levels.

“We might be the Michael Jordan of customer satisfaction, but it’s not something you can say in a direct-mail piece,” Todd Green says.  

The Green dealerships have a waiting list of prospective employees. Part of that is because of progressive employer policies including a stated commitment to equal opportunity employment and health coverage for domestic partners. The Green dealerships employ about 600 people.

Much of Todd Green’s inspiration comes from Lou Holtz, a legendary football coach at the University of Arkansas. Todd Green played for him in the late 1970s.

“He gave me a wonderful education in preparation for life; things that I live by every day,” he says. “Like: ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get.’ And: ‘It all comes down to how bad you want it.’”

While auto sales have improved, so have auto maker-dealer relations, Todd Green says.

“One big change in the business in the last five years is the relationship with the manufacturers,” he says. “We’ve got 16 brands, and mostly all the top-level (OE) people have become kinder, gentler and better listeners.

“They understand if we’re making a fair income. They can talk to us about ways they’d like to see us change, and we’ll have an open mind about it.”

Todd Green loves running dealerships. “I can’t imagine if I left this business the hole it would put in my life. My favorite day is Monday. I can’t wait to get to work.”

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