Dealer Gary Drewing has owned the Joe Machens Automotive Group in Columbia, MO, since 1983, and he’s always been happy with the name of the business.

“We don’t have to have our name on a building,” Drewing says of his dealerships at seven Missouri locations.

“We’re proud of the Joe Machens name,” he says. “We’ve branded that name for years and will continue to do that for the future.”

Drewing started as a partner and general manager in 1983 under Joe Machens, a local Ford dealer since 1969. There were 34 employees at the time. In 2006, he became sole owner when he bought out Dave Machens, son of Joe Machens, who died in 1997.

The 12-franchise group now employs 720 people. Brands the company represents include Ford, Lincoln, Toyota, Scion, BMW, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Nissan, Volkswagen and Fiat.

Before becoming a dealer, Drewing worked for Ford. He thought about accepting a promotion at company headquarters in Dearborn, MI, but he wanted to run his own dealership. So he started working at Capital City Ford in Jefferson City, MO. Then he got to know Joe Machens. And that has made all the difference, he says.

For the past 15 years, Joe Machens Ford Lincoln has ranked as Missouri’s largest-volume dealership.

Drewing’s goal is to make every franchise he owns No.1 in the state. “If you don’t get better, you get worse,” he says. “The auto business keeps changing. If you don’t adapt, you get left behind.”

When the economy doesn’t cooperate, he doesn’t throw in his cards. He changes strategy.

Drewing’s son, Rusty Drewing, joined the family business in 2005. He runs all pre-owned operations and is general manager of Joe Machens Ford-Lincoln.

After major expansions in 2008, Rusty became part owner and also owns Joe Machens Capital City Ford Lincoln in Jefferson City, MO. He’s a partner in overall dealership operations, his father says proudly.

When the economic meltdown hit, the Machens group kept growing. A significant moment came in 2008 when the elder Drewing bought out Legend Automotive Group, renaming it Joe Machens AG.

That move added Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac and Pontiac brands to the portfolio. That group still sells Mitsubishi, Mazda, Fiat and Mercedes vehicles.

“We’re always looking to expand,” Gary Drewing says. “We look at what fits in our portfolio and with our other franchises.”

He also has divested himself of brands over the years, including Volkswagen, Audi, Cadillac, Porsche and Isuzu. This year, VW is back at Machens after a nearly 20-year absence.

“We were experiencing record years” during the recession, Gary Drewing says. “We looked at the tough economy and downtime as an opportunity to refocus our operations.”

For example, the group expanded its used-car departments and now claims to be the largest pre-owned operator in the Midwest.  

Three new facilities are under construction at a cost of about $20 million. Those include new Mercedes-Benz and VW stores and a Toyota dealership replacing an existing one. With the additional stores will come up to 100 new hires, Gary Drewing estimates.

“We think VW will be a home run in this market and demographics,” says Rusty Drewing. “We treat every customer like we want to be treated. It’s not a big-city mentality. It’s one customer, one sale at a time.”

He and his father don’t believe in absentee ownership; they are involved in all operations. But the son shrugs off titles such as president and partner.

“Roles are not that important here,” he says. “The key to success is hard work and effort.” 

The younger Drewing began working at the dealership group after graduating from Truman State University in northeastern Missouri with a liberal arts degree.

Rusty Drewing grew up in the family business and says he is passionate about all things auto. “When we’re eating dinner, we talk cars,” he says. “That’s what we enjoy.”

Owners and managers monitor sales numbers closely, Gary Drewing says. “We have high expectations. When the month ends, we dissect the rankings and cross-sell reports from the Missouri Department of Revenue. We look at the rankings closely. We view every transaction, every deal daily, monthly, yearly. We know how many (vehicles) are sold every day.”

Joe Machens Ford Lincoln’s 6,438 sales in 2011 consisted of 2,419 new and 4,019 used vehicles. The store is No.26 on the 2012 WardsAuto Dealer 500 with total revenue of $169.8 million.

Total group revenue was $516 million for 2011, according to Machens’ records. 

“We currently capture about 80% of the Columbia market share, combining new and pre-owned vehicle sales,” says Mary Jo Henry, Machens’ marketing director. “We are well above the 2011 sales pace for 2012,”

To remain accessible to customers, the father and son take their own phone calls “No one screens our calls,” Gary Drewing says. “We’re accessible to the public.”

He adds, “We still consider the phone to be our No.1 tool for getting customers in the doors. People buy through people.”

Machens has six general managers empowered to run daily dealership operations. “We look to hire employees who buy into our mindset and philosophy,” says Gary Drewing. “That means putting the customer first. When we hire people we want to hire them for life.”

Like most top-notch dealers, the Drewings honor employee achievements and milestones.

Sometimes it’s doing little things, such as recognizing birthdays. They give gold coins to commemorate significant dealership anniversaries, starting at 10 years. 

They are proud of making time to recognize so many employees while handling the complexity of running a major multi-brand dealership operation in an ever-changing industry.

“If it’s important enough, make it a No.1 priority all the time,” Rusty Drewing says. “The most important thing is interaction with customers and our people.”

Adds his father: “We’ve been here 43 years; we know a lot of people.”

Company Profile: Joe Machens Automotive Group

Where: Columbia, MO.

Owners: Gary Drewing and Rusty Drewing

Employees: 720 across all brands; up to 100 being added with new dealerships

Market share: 80% of Columbia market.

Community Service: “We invest heavily in the community,” says Gary Drewing. “You name it, we do it.” The company recently was honored for contributing about $70,000 to the Missouri United Way.

 

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