Special Report

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Dealer 500

A mountain town of less than 7,000 people might seem an unlikely place to find one of the nation’s top dealers.

But Princeton, WV, is home to Ramey Motors Inc., a thriving franchised dealership with used-car sales exceeding its new-car deliveries. Last year, it sold 3,343 pre-owned vehicles.

Princeton is one of several communities clustered among four neighboring counties in southern West Virginia.

James C. Ramey’s name has been familiar to the area for more than five decades, Used-Car Manager Ed Huff says.

“His heartbeat and pulse have always been the used-car department,” Huff says of Ramey, who began selling used vehicles in his mother’s front yard more than a half century ago and now owns a network of dealerships.

“We’ve always been a strong used-car dealer, and we always sell a few more used than we do new,” says Huff. “And with the economy and gas prices what they are, and how new vehicle prices have increased over the year, there is always a definite profit in pre-owned cars.”

On this year’s Ward’s Dealer 500, Ramey Motors ranks 13th in national used-car sales and 277th overall.

Ramey’s used-vehicle department garners almost half of the dealership’s total revenue: $51,406,943 of a $104,256,198 total.

Huff says the key is to keep a close eye on what’s selling and what isn’t. The dealership stays within its new-car franchises (Chevrolet, GMC, Pontiac, Subaru) when it comes to deciding what used vehicles to stock.

“Let’s face it, if you’re coming to a Chevy dealership, you’re probably not looking for a Ford,” says Huff, who has been with Ramey Motors for 20 years. “We change the lot around from time to time to give it a new look.

The dealership also keeps an eye on the calendar.

It’s seasonal,” Huff says. “In the summer time, we put our sports cars up front, and in the winter we put out our 4x4s. We’re in the mountains and we get a lot of snow and bad weather, so we’re pretty strong with trucks and 4-wheel drive vehicles as far as pre-owned.”

Huff says Ramey Motors doesn’t trade enough vehicles to keep its used-car lot stocked. So many vehicles are typically purchased wholesale through Manheim Automotive Auction plus various rental companies.

“We run all of our cars through our shops to make sure they’re mechanically sound, so people have confidence that they’re getting a good, quality vehicle with no problems,” he says. “Every car we sell, no matter what it is, goes through our shop and gets a mechanical check and safety inspection.”

Although Ramey Motors is a familiar name in town, the dealership continues to look for ways to stay in touch with the community.

For instance, last year it hosted what Huff calls a “mailer event.” About 100,000 flyers were mailed to residents, inviting them to a gathering at the dealership.

All attendees got a small gift and a chance to win a car or $50,000 cash. “The customer gets a card to scratch off in the mail, and they have to bring that into the dealership to see if they actually won,” Huff says.

More than 2,000-3,000 attended the last event in 2006.

“They come in to see if they’ve won something and lots of times they’re not even in the market for a car,” he says of the event’s attendees. “But we smile and we’re friendly and give them a beverage, hot dog and a small gift, and that puts a good taste in their mouths.”

The dealership, Huff says, tries to do things the right way. “Mr. Ramey has always told us, ‘Don’t make me $1 million and get me sued for $2 million,’”

The dealership has come a long way from the days when Ramey sold cars in his mom’s yard. He now owns nine new-car dealerships and 10 satellite used-car shops.

“Our goal is for the customer to be completely satisfied,” says Huff. “As long as that happens, then they’ll come back.”

egenoff@wardsauto.com