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Anchorage Nissan/Jeep/Eagle: catering to the consumers.

Hands-on management at Anchorage Nissan turned losses into profits and helped set new sales records.

Anchorage Nissan/Jeep/Eagle, located on one of the city's highest traffic intersections, Tudor Road and Old Seward Highway, knows what running a successful business means. The determination to become Alaska's biggest and best multi-faceted car dealership fuels its formula for success through good economic times or bad.

In 1984, Jim Johnson, a 24-year First National Bank of Anchorage veteran, and Rick Hagen, from Stepp Brothers Lincoln Mercury, purchased the Nissan dealership from Ivan Felton and quickly expanded, adding a used car lot and a Jeep agency in 1987. The pair created Affordable Car Rental in 1989, and in 1991 opened the new Jeep/Eagle facility on Old Seward.

To become an authorized new car dealership, a prospective dealer must receive approval from the manufacturer. After obtaining the necessary capital and physical location, the manufacturer expects a new dealer to have a strong background in auto sales before it grants franchise approval. For Anchorage Nissan, Hagen supplied the dealership expertise while Johnson, now company president, provided years of financial know-how. Johnson says the National Bank of Alaska was extremely helpful in getting the firm off the ground financially and is still very supportive of the business.

Keeping Consumer Confidence

Vice president Darcy Johnson, daughter of the president, says Anchorage Nissan is fortunate: Selling a line of cars with a reputation for quality and reliability, plus a top-notch team of managers, supports high sales levels. Even when manufacturer commitment to quality slips, like in the early 1990s, Anchorage Nissan was still able to gain consumer confidence.

Johnson says, "The key to success lies in people overall. A good team of managers and leaders to help carry out the mission is an essential factor, especially now during a new period of growth. There is so much going on that it is easy to lose touch with the internal workings of the operation."

A "hands-on" style of management turned a loss of nearly $5 million in gross sales for 1991 to a substantial $9 million revenue gain in 1992. Nissan sales are up 44 percent, surpassing Honda, the industry standard for the last decade, and Jeep/Eagle sales are also surpassing previous sales figures.

"When a customer comes to us for a car, we want them to understand all of their options," says Jim Johnson. "We explain that we stand behind our car lines. The manufacturer chose us to represent them because we have a good reputation in the community, and we have the experience necessary to run a profitable business."

New Lines of Sales

Adding motorhome sales to its line-up worked as a profitable maneuver for Anchorage Nissan. "This is our second full year in motorhomes, really our first because last year was a test to see how motorhome sales would do," Jim Johnson says. "So far this year, we sold 94 new models and 24 used models. I expect that we will probably sell 150 motorhomes by the end of the year."

Anchorage Nissan salesman Chuck Unsworth began selling motorhomes right from the division's first year of operation. He says in the first year, about 40 motorhome sales were completed. Last year the company sold 90 units, but this year sales have soared beyond that figure.

"We feature several different motorhome floor plans, ranging in price from about $30,000 to $80,000," adds Unsworth. "We now have slide-in campers and travel trailers. We're full-service, something for everyone."

Another of Anchorage Nissan's enterprises is Affordable Car Rental. Begun about four years ago, Affordable not only brings in extra revenue, about $100,000 a month, but keeps the used car lot stocked with desirable, well-maintained used cars.

"Breaking the strong rental car season down to exact dates is extremely important," explains Darcy Johnson. "June until the end of August or the beginning of September is the busiest time of the year."

"We think that it's important to have about 280 cars on hand for increased demand during the tourist season. In the winter, we trim the fleet down to 20, and the rest is sent to the used car lot," she adds.

Jim Johnson says Affordable buys 400 to 500 cars for rental purchase each year. The cars are rented for about five months and then put up for sale. He explains that using their own line of cars (Nissan/Jeep/Eagle) for the car rental operation is more profitable because when the rental cars are put on the sales lot, the public receives the same brand reliability and dealership reputation that new buyers expect. And because Alaska has no major wholesale car auctions, buying a rental car is like getting an almost-new vehicle at what would be considered wholesale prices.

"It doesn't cut into new car sales either," says Jim Johnson. "Those buyers who want a new car usually stick with it, and those who are looking for used cars are glad to see we have cars in every price range and feel that buying one of these rentals is an exceptional value. Sometimes the rental cars also come with a part of the original warranty remaining."

No matter what kind of vehicle you desire, Anchorage Nissan/Jeep/Eagle has it all. From sports cars to utility vehicles, new or used, this all-Alaskan company strives to perfect customer service, and a friendly and knowledgeable staff is glad to offer pressure-free assistance.

Auto sales is in the Johnsons' blood. After all, Darcy Johnson has spent her entire working career in the business, and Jim Johnson has been her mentor for the entire nine years of operation.

Built on such a firm foundation, Anchorage Nissan/Jeep/Eagle plans to forge a profitable future, filling the highways with first-rate rigs that will stay on the road for years to come.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:The new 49ers
Author:Berger, Michael
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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Next Article:Northern Sales Co. of Alaska Inc.: Southeast wholesale suppliers.

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