Special Report

2011 Ward's Dealer 500

The battle for No.1 in Chevrolet sales saw Classic Chevrolet retain its crown in new-unit sales for the fifth year in a row in 2010.

It helped lift its ranking on the Ward’s Dealer 500 to No.4, with total revenues of $293.9 million and vehicle sales of 7,500.

Classic has been a dominant factor in the Dallas-Fort Worth market for 30 years after Tom Durant built it on an undeveloped tract in the suburb of Grapevine, TX.

“We’ve kept our leaderships as the No.1 dealer in the U.S. over Paddock Chevrolet in Buffalo,” says Tom’s son, Hagen Durant, the dealership's general manager.

The store has seen an uptick in finance and insurance revenues, which amounted to a store record of $10.7 million. Sales this year have bounced up about 10%.

The boom in Classic’s sales has been so steady, the dealership has purchased a Chevrolet store that was part of the defunct Bill Heard group in Sugarland, TX, a Houston suburb.

Assigned to run that store and another acquired in Florida are general managers trained at the flagship store in Grapevine.

“We call it the Classic Academy: training store managers who are treated as equity partners, adding to their incentive to produce high grosses and profits,” says Hagen Durant, 31.

A Texas Tech alum, he majored in business before returning to the Grapevine store in 2002, staring as a Hummer salesman.

As he moved up the ladder, Hagen focused on diversifying the managerial lineup, now employing six managers to supervise 260 employees. He graduated from the National Automobile Dealers Assn. Academy in 2008.

In his supervisory role, Hagen attributes part of the dealership’s success and growth to a strong Internet business, starting early on in 1998. The Internet team remains on the same pay plan as floor sales staff.

Classic Chevrolet undertook use of Twitter as a social-media tool in 2009, finding it a slow starter but now seeing it as an opportunity to monitor shopper behavior and “see how people interact,” says Hagen Durant, who also launched a blog for Classic Chevrolet.

“We were ahead of the curve in setting up a website, are pushing for No.1 in Chevrolet sales every year and would like to pioneer with an Internet-only operation,” he says referring to plans for a dedicated Internet store in the near future.

In response to the industry downturn of 2009, Classic Chevrolet made “few” employee cutbacks, but still sold 4,101 new cars that year. The dealership’s average annual goal of about 5,000 was missed, but that target was surpassed by 10% in 2010 and appears on course for 2011.

The younger Durant, who was 29 when he assumed the general management at Classic, voices one problem about the “new” General Motors: inventory imbalances.

“They had to cut back, but they have yet to keep our inventories running even with demand, as in the old days,” he says.

“Sometimes, we’re trying to sell out of empty shelves for hot products like Camaro, Malibu, Equinox, Traverse and the trucks. We’re loaded with Suburbans, though. It’s an uneven situation.”