KELLOGG, ID — Dave Smith Motors, a century-old dealership in this northern Idaho town of 2,400, once again is high atop the Ward's e-Dealer 100.
On the list since the beginning 10 years ago, it is No.2 this year.
How theCo.- Group LLC dealer has managed to become such an Internet champion, in what CEO Ken Smith calls “Nowheresville USA,” is a story steeped in auto history.
His father, the late Dave Smith, started the business in 1965 as a Chevrolet store. Nine other franchises followed, making the dealership a large presence in the small town.
Early on, there was a vision to sell beyond the city limits of Kellogg, near the Washington state border.
“It was decided to make the dealership a sales center for buyers throughout the Pacific Northwest,” says Ken Smith. That effort went into overdrive with the advent of the Internet.
The “Dave Smith system” has been unique in its sales and marketing concepts since then. Shoppers have been treated to “one-stop” shopping of vehicles, accessories, financing and the like as the dealership grew its sales volumes.
Dave Smith Motors found its one-stop system tailor-made for the Internet. The outlet sold 5,246 units through the Internet last year. About 25 Internet sales people work out of an old school that Ken Smith bought and converted into offices.
“There's still plenty of frontier thinking out in the Northwest,” Ken Smith says, “and 80% of our business is in heavy-duty Chevrolet and Dodge trucks. What's more, our buyers from out of town come here to Kellogg for pickup and delivery.”
Part of the enticement: “We invite them to take a vacation in Kellogg and nearby in the Couer d'Alene hill country.”
Boasting more sales staff in one location than some groups in total, Dave Smith Motors maintains an inventory in the high hundreds, firmly believing the time-tested practice of selling out of inventory is best-suited to consumers' vehicle-buying behavior.
“We also have our own tire and wheel shop, a new body shop that cost $2 million and our own line of designer accessories,” says Eric Smith, general manager, who supervised a recent website update.
The accessory operation, highlighted on the website, is one of the nation's largest. Among unique accessories are individualized grilles and tow bars. Ken Smith says he started building up the business after noticing that, although the dealership sold a lot of trucks, other businesses were accessorizing them.
As it became one of the nation's leading Chevrolet stores, Dave Smith Motors obliged' requests to add GM brands. Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Cadillac were acquired in 1970, Buick and GMC in 1985. and Dodge came aboard in 1990 and Jeep in 1994.
Ironically, the dealership got a non-renewal notice for the Cadillac franchise last year, only to receive a reinstatement in March, part of GM's decision to reinstate more than 600 of 2,000 dealers it plans to cut.
“They figured Kellogg was too small for a Caddy franchise,” Ken Smith. “Have we got news for them.”
As a Chrysler-brand dealer, Dave Smith Motors is entertaining proposals for a second store in northern Idaho, serving Chrysler andbrands, including Alfa Romeo and possibly other imports.
“It's time for the Dave Smith system of one-stop shopping to roll out,” Ken Smith says. “will make over Chrysler with those beautiful Italian cars.”