WASHINGTON — As fellow Californian dealer John Hawkins began listing the accomplishments of Cheri Fleming of Valencia Acura, there was little doubt whom this year's American International Automobile Dealers Assn. Dealer of the Year would be.

Hawkins was at the microphone a long time. The long list of charities and community organizations Fleming is involved with prompted good-natured laughter from the audience — and had them wondering how Fleming had any time left to sell cars.

For Fleming, buying a dealership provided her with the perfect opportunity to use her position to influence the community. So she jumped when Ron Tonkin, an Oregon-area dealer approached her about becoming partners in the Valencia dealership.

At the time, it was one of the lowest-selling Acura stores in the nation, and Fleming was a finance and insurance manager at another dealership.

She began adding what she calls a “woman's touch” to the dealership, implementing “Monday Manicures” and “Wednesday Massages.” For the men, the dealership has “Shoe Shine Fridays.”

Her enthusiasm for the business and her involvement with the community turned the dealership into one of the leading Acura stores in the country.

Fleming has donated more than $2.5 million to various charities and sits on numerous boards in the Valencia community. She credits husband Don, the store's general manager and co-owner, for helping her turn it around.

As vice president of the Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center Advisory Board, Fleming was instrumental in bringing an imaging unit to Valencia, which has resulted in the early detection of breast cancer for several women.

“Don't tell me dealers can't make a difference,” she tells the audience.