The 25th anniversary supp-lement of the Arkansas Times headlined its single dealer success story in a one-word headline, "LANDERS."

The story focused on the three-dealership chain operated by Steve Landers and owned by United Auto Group since 1995. The stores are in Benton and North Little Rock, AR.

The Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge-Jeep, Ford and Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealerships are top sellers in President Clinton's home state.

But a bigger prize appears in the works.

Barring a year-end turnaround, Landers C-P-Dodge-Jeep will extend its 10-month record as the nation's top-selling DaimlerChrysler dealer in new-unit sales through calendar 1999.

That would dethrone Earnhardt's C-P-J and Dodge dealerships in Phoenix, longtime No. 1 in that realm.

Says Steve Landers, "We beat Earnhardt's by 600 new units in the 10-month period, thanks to an awful lot of hard work and customer loyalty. The staff deserves all the credit for making us Arkansas' first national sales champion.

"If you want to be above-average, you have to put forth effort. Our people put in 70 to 80 hours a week, because they like to win and be No. 1."

With the three dealerships all on top in area sales and customer sat-isfaction, Mr. Lan-ders is an unquestioned role model and business model for the reorganized United Auto Group.

He is southern regional vice president for UAG and is a champion of the restructuring initiated by Chairman and CEO Roger S. Penske since Penske Capital took over UAG this year.

"Roger is a powerhouse dealer guy," says Mr. Landers, who sold UAG an 80% equity in his trio of dealerships.

"The fact that Mr. Penske started as a dealer and still has top-ranked dealerships like Longo Toyota in California makes a big difference for a network like UAG. He's totally focused on pro-dealer concepts and the success of the brands we dealers carry, not on Wall Street concerns or ego-tripping."

Proud of the fact that Landers has become a "household name" in Arkansas, Mr. Landers certainly was not to the manor born.

He started "hanging out" at a Ford dealership on University Avenue in Little Rock in his late teens, while his mother thought he was pursuing a career to become a chiropractor at the University of Arkansas.

He and his father, Bob, started a used-car lot on a mosquito-infested 10-by-140-sq. ft. lot on Military Avenue.

That business grew during the 1980s and in 1989 an Olds-GMC point was purchased and the Jeep franchise added thereafter.

"Jeep and our Jeep manager and now president, Dwight Everett, gave us our big boost in the 1990s," Mr. Landers recalls. "That brought in Chrysler, Plymouth and Dodge in 1991. Our volume has steadily risen with a record $202 million in sales."

With 570 employees in the three locations, including 60 salespersons, the Landers group also reaches out with a website that gives shoppers data on vehicle availability, prices and, in the boss's mind, more important messages on the style and philosophy of the business.

The website's home page highlights the Landers motto, "Where character and reputation do make a difference."

Local charities benefit from Landers' philanthropic largesse, including the Juvenile Diabetes Walk and Arkansas Children's hospital.

Landers' son, Steve, Jr., is one of the three sales managers and Steve's wife, Sandy, is one of Mr. Landers' main consultants in what has been a swift ride to the very top of the sales ladder.