Chevy store thrives in AutoNation's homeland

POMPANO BEACH, FL - Growth is a given at Lou Bachrodt Chevrolet, despite problems of doing business seven days a week in a market that's heavy with big-name retail competitors.

"Southeastern Florida is one of the toughest markets in the U.S.," says owner Louis C. Bachrodt III at his remodeled dealership, which finished 152nd on the Ward's Dealer Business Top 500 for 1998.

"But the lessons I learned from my dad up in Rockford, IL, where we have a GM dealership, still apply down here. Customers and employees still come back to a dealer they know and like, who treats everybody well.

"'Nothing old, nothing new,' my dad would say. He meant you gain customers and keep staff by staying fair and square."

A Chevrolet dealer activist who chaired the division's national dealer council in 1992, Mr. Bachrodt is loyal to his brand but outspoken about the concerns facing GM as its market penetration dips below the 30% level.

He says, "The Chevy dealers have carried the brand through a lot of product disappointments as well as through the ongoing Procter & Gamble approach to marketing. But we've been on a growth path here in AutoNation land' and I see our new trucks and restyled 2000-model cars con-tinuing the trend."

AutoNation Inc., the nation's top mega-dealer, is based in nearby Fort Lauderdale and it is planning to launch its second regional pilot this fall in three counties of southeastern Florida, where it has a slew of Chevy and Ford stores surrounding Mr. Bachrodt's Chevy dealership in Pompano Beach and another in Coconut Creek.

Nearby competitors include Kelley Chevrolet, Maroone Chevrolet, Ed Morse Chevrolet and Wallace Chevrolet.

"I haven't lost an employee to an AutoNation store," says Mr. Bachrodt, 57, whose son Craig, 31, runs the Coconut Creek facility and daughter, Shannon, 28, is information director for both Florida dealerships.

"The Pompano store grew from $76 million in sales in 1996 to $97 million in 1997 and $104 million last year, and we're ahead of 1998 so far this year.

"AutoNation made me a buyout offer, but we've done better without joining them because of the established Bachrodt Chevrolet identity and following."

Mr. Bachrodt was a key organizer of the Driver's Mart network of used-car superstores, which he says "wasn't working as well as we thought" when a juicy AutoNation offer was accepted in 1997.

His Driver's Mart was too close to the flagship AutoNation superstore in Coconut Creek, so he converted the concept to "Driver's Choice" operations next door to the Pompano and Coconut Creek stores.

He says, "Our Driver's Choice still did $21 million in used-unit sales last year competing with AutoNation. That's up from $17 million in '97, so they haven't taken over the used-car market here as they expected."

After "growing up" in the Rockford flagship store, Mr. Bachrodt at age 25 took over a Chevy point in Freeport, IL. He moved south in 1983, buying a Chevy location in Pompano on the eve of a population and dealership surge that impelled many northern dealers to add Florida stores to their holdings