Omaha, NE, and Anch-orage, AK, are not markets where one would expect to find dealers who are among the top 500.
Yet, Wayne Atchley, who's near cornfields, and Leonard Bryant, who's near the tundra, are firmly in the middle tier of the Ward's Dealer Business 500.
Atchleyin Omaha sold 845 new cars, 1,677 new trucks and 1,795 used units in 1999 in a city's with a population of about 650,000 people. The dealership's total revenue was $92.2 million.
Mr. Bryant's Alaska Sales and Service sold 592 cars, 1,404 trucks and 1,218 used vehicles in a market with slightly more than a half million citizens. His store's total take was $91.7 million, a chunk of which comes from remote hinterland areas, making deliveries a challenge.
Atchleyhas been in business in Omaha for 25 years, since Ford Motor Co. hand-picked him out of a general manager's position at a Littleton, CO, store.
"Omaha is a great place to live, raise a family and run a business," says Mr. Atchley. "It's not a major market, which limits what we can sell. But we sell twice as many as Ford says we're supposed to."
Although he says it's sometimes difficult to get enough trucks, according to Mr. Atchley, the dealership does quite a bit of repeat business.
"We take good care of our customers," he says. "That's a big part of our success."
Another part of Atchley Ford's success is the service business.
"We have over 50 service stalls, so our customers know they can get their cars taken care of in a timely fashion, he says.
One factor in the dealership's ability to attract repeat business is that many of its 150 employees have been with the company for more than 20 years. "That's way above average," notes Mr. Atchley.
The market situation, along with the climate and the scenery, is different in Anchorage.
When Alaska Sales and Service opened in 1944, Alaska wasn't even a state and there wasn't much competition.
"It was a near monopoly for many years," says Mr. Bryant, a long-time dealership employee who became the dealer principal a decade ago.
In the '70s, the dealership commanded more than half the market. Today it has less than 30%.
Now there are two other Chevrolet points, adealership and a Ford store in the area. Imports are represented in the market as well.
"We've been here a long time and that helps," says the owner of a full-linedealership, except for Saturn. "Our name recognition is about 98%.
"We have an extremely good reputation for honesty, integrity and treating people right," he continues, "and have very high customer retention, about 68%. We try to keep the customer for life."
One of the ways Alaska Sales and Service keeps its customers is with its large, modern service facility. But it earns loyalty by doing business in what Mr. Bryant calls the "bush community," remote villages that are not accessible by roads.
Vehicle deliveries are made by barge in summer and by air in winter. It costs customers an extra $4,000-$6,000 to barge or fly a new vehicle into the bush.
Technicians and their equipment often have to be flown in to service these vehicles.
Mr. Bryant says between 8% and 10% of his business is in these remote areas.
"We've been in a steady growth situation despite the changes in the market and the industry," he says, adding that vehicles are sometimes hard to come by in what likely is GM's most northwest outpost. "We're usually on the tail end of the food chain."
Like many out-of-the-way markets, "This is truck country," he says. "Our split is about 70-30. Most of the Oldsmobiles we sell are Bravadas and about a third of our Cadillacs are the SUV."
Alaska Sales and Service has 250 employees, some 54% of which have about 2 years with the dealership.
"It's a very transient community, but we just turn over the fringes," Mr. Bryant says. "We have about a dozen people who have been here more than 20 years."