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Dealing wheels in the lone star state.

Had Alan Young's eyes been a little sharper and his lungs a little stronger, his affinity for mathematics might have propelled him skyward as a military jet pilot. Instead, Young was born with blurred vision and asthmatic lungs. But determined to better himself--both physically and financially--he decided early on that the road to prosperity and self-fulfillment was an entrepreneurial path.

"Being self-employed forces you to get up and go to work when you don't feel like it. It's probably the best thing I ever did," says Young.

Lured to Fort Worth, Texas, during the '80s boom period, he has successfully kept Alan Young Buick-GMC Truck Inc. profitable, despite an economic climate that has capsized many businesses. Persevering through relentless cost cutting, he has seen sales at the onestore dealership increase over 35%, reaching $45.7 million in 1992, up from $33.8 million the previous year.

Since taking over the dealership in 1985, Young has cut his staff from over 90 employees to less than 70. To keep his inventory as lean as possible, he avoids any unnecessary expense. Reducing overhead costs, he displays new cars and trucks on a common sales floor, and has closed down the used car showroom on his 7 1/2 acre lot. "It gives us more control," Young explains. Overall, the consolidation enabled him to reduce his selling area and staff, while giving his salespeople more varieties of vehicles to sell.

The largest minority business in Tarrant County, where Fort Worth is located, Alan Young Buick-GMC Truck ranks second in size among minority businesses in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. (It is followed by the $36.9 million BLACK ENTERPRISE 100s Pro-Line Corp. in Dallas.) Since its initial entry at No. 82 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 in 1989, Young's dealership has moved up the list to its current position at No. 13 in only four years. His entrepreneurial success in the automotive business, which has seen him rise from gas station owner to major auto dealer, has earned Alan Young the accolade of BE's 1993 Auto Dealer of the Year.

A boost in fleet sales, mainly to rental car companies, made a strong contribution to Young's revenue increase. Yet, fleet sales account for only one-third of his total business. Young and his new car and truck sales manager, Brian Fogle, see fleet sales as a valuable marketing tactic that will eventually translate into greater retail sales. The used car market, particularly from fleet sales, contributes a quarter of the dealership's total revenues. "We sell more used cars now than when the building was open," says Young. "Rental car buybacks cost less than a new car, and you have all the same features."

The other element in Young's success formula came as a lucky break in 1989 when he bought a GMC Truck franchise. The first year, Young sold 450 trucks, initially surpassing his sales of Buicks. Truck sales dipped the next two years, while Buick sales recovered. But in 1992, Young sold over 500 GMCs, outstripping Buick sales by almost 100 vehicles.

Now he's tapped into the hottest segment of the new vehicle market. "People who would not have thought of buying a truck three or four years ago are now clamoring to buy one," says Young.

If truck sales have been his salvation, car sales have been his cross to bear. Buick sales in Texas colapsed in the 1980s. In 1984, Buicks were 8.5% of the state's new cars, but last year, they dropped to 4% During his first full year at the dealership in 1986, Young sold nearly 1,000 new Buicks at retail; last year, he sold just 418.

Even reports that the fuel tanks in GMC pickup trucks might be unsafe haven't hurt sales. For one thing, the vehicles in question are no longer being made. Besides, shoppers seemed more angry with the NBC News program Dateline for showing a faked explosion of a General Motors truck than they were at the automaker. Still, Young concedes that GM has a serious image problem, spawned by months of management turmoil and layoff notices. "They don't have the image of being the leader in innovation and product design anymore."

Learning The Business

Young grew up on Chicago's South Side, the son of jazz pianist John Young. His parents divorced when he was a kid, and Alan, his brother and two sisters grew up with his mother, Marion, and maternal grandmother, Estelle.

An avid reader, "I was destined to go to college, so I basically associated myself with smart kids," recalls Young. As a student at Tilden Technical High School, Young won two scholarships to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, one of the nation's top colleges for math and science. The plan was to become a mathematician or a military pilot. Upon entering college in 1963, Young joined the ROTC, signed up for math courses and had a strong freshman year.

But as a sophomore Young flunked computer science--the first "F" of his life. "That scared me away from computers for the next 30 years," he says. It also scared Young away from mathematics and spoiled his dream of military glory.

During the summer of 1965, Young got a glimpse of what the future might be like for a college dropout. He toiled in a factory and worked as a clerk in a Chicago marketing firm before finding a month's worth of contentment peddling encyclopedias door-to-door. Young made only a few sales, but he liked the job. "I wasn't the greatest salesman, but it gave me an idea about the field I wanted to be in," he says. "I needed a job where the variety of the day would be my excitement."

His summer experiences led Young to change his major and set his sights on marketing. He graduated in 1968 with a less than stellar grade-point average, but it was good enough to earn him a job with Shell Oil Co. As a service station district representative on Chicago's North Side, he sold Shell motor oil, tires and batteries to gas station operators and relayed their concerns to the front office. It was valuable experience and it changed Young's life.

After a year and a half as a salesman, Young decided to open his own station. In 1969, the newly married Young emptied out his $5,000 bank account and leased a Shell service station at 107th and Halsted Street on Chicago's South Side.

Young had chosen a tough way to earn a living. He had to learn the mysteries of customer service and inventory control, and discovered that employees were often quite willing to steal from the man who signed their paycheck. "I was very naive," recalls Young.

Things got much worse during the first OPEC oil embargo in 1973. Hundreds of gas stations shut down for lack of fuel to sell. "I'd get a load of gas at eight or nine o'clock in the morning, and at five I'd shut down and go home," recalls Young. But it never occured to him that he might go out of business. "I don't think that way," he says. "As long as I can pay my bills and keep my doors open, tomorrow is another day."

As the OPEC crisis eased, Young's business stabilized and became steadily profitable. Still, he didn't intend to spend the rest of his life pumping gas. "It was a stepping stone to something else."

Stepping On and Moving Out

In 1972, Young's insurance agent told him that he was quitting his job to enter the GM Minority Dealer Development program. Young scoffed, but sang a different tune three years later, when he learned his friend owned a Chevrolet and Cadillac dealership in Kenosha, Wis. A violent quarrel with one of his employees was the last straw. Young applied for the GM program and was accepted in late 1976. By spring of 1977, he shut down the service station and began preparing for a new career.

For the next two years, Young studied auto retailing in GM classrooms and dealerships. His favorite teacher was Michael Christopolous, owner of Olympic Auto Mall, an Oldsmobile-GMC Truck dealership on Chicago's North Side. Christopolous taught Young to sell cars in an ethnically diverse neighborhood.

"Alan came to me wearing a beret and a mustache," Christopolous recalls. "Most of our customers then were blue-collar and white, and a black man with a beret and a mustache wasn't going to make it in Archie Bunker territory." Young abandoned the headgear and facial hair, and became a star pupil. "His people handling skills were excellent. He was honest, straightforward and hard working," says Christopolous. "I expect a dollar's work for a dollar's pay. I got $1.75 out of Al," he remembers.

Meantime, Young was learning how to sell a car to practically anyone. "I sold cars to people who couldn't speak English. That was a very good experience for me, because it taught me that if you approach people in the right way, it doesn't matter what they think about you because of your race."

Not long after graduating from the program in 1979, Young learned about an available Buick dealership in an unlikely place--Lincoln, Neb. Since Young's GM training had been sponsored by Oldsmobile, officially he wasn't supposed to investigate a Buick dealership. Meanwhile, Olds was tempting him with offers of a store in Rock Island, Ill. But after a visit to Lincoln, Young was determined to have the Buick franchise. In late 1979, Alan Young Buick opened for business. "Lincoln has as many black people as Nome, Alaska, I guess," says Young. But that didn't stop him from selling cars.

Part of his draw was the sheer novelty of a black dealership in one of America's whitest regions. Young turned curiosity into customer satisfaction. "For the time I was in Lincoln, I made good money," Young remembers. Sales for his first Buick dealership rose from $12 million in 1979 to $16 million in 1984.

In the following year, a Buick dealership in suburban Fort Worth, Texas, beckoned and Young found the temptation to buy irresistible. "I knew the place was making money, and that this was a boom market," says Young. He sold his Nebraska dealership and moved to Texas.

He arrived just in time to watch the collapse of the state's oil-based economy. "Sales went to hell in a handbasket very quickly. The high rollers who had the dollars to buy cars for their honeys just stopped buying them," he says with a smile.

Young sold just under 1,000 new Buicks in 1986, but the next year, the dealership moved fewer than 600. He tried to recoup his loss with a $600,000 advertising blitz that included local TV spots. It failed to bring in customers. When sales continued to slide through 1988, Young realized he was in desperate trouble.

"I had to cut my expenses tremendously. When I took over the store, I had over 90 employees. Now I have 68." Young also slashed his advertising budget, spending just $251,000 last year--all on newspaper ads and direct mail. To bolster his marketing effort, Young joined the Buick and GMC Truck regional advertising associations, which run generic cooperative TV ads mentioning local dealers like Young.

Despite cutting costs, Young was hanging on by his fingernails. Then came a stroke of luck. A nearby GMC Truck franchise went out of business in 1986, and company executives were on the lookout for a replacement. Two years later, after checking out a neighboring dealer, they approached Young. "They liked the location, they liked what I was doing with Buick and they liked my reputation."

The Customer Is No. 1.

Shoppers at Young's store won't find him on the sales floor making deals. He relies on his 12 sales-people to keep the metal moving. "I run the business." Besides, Young doesn't want to compete with his salespeople. "They make a living selling cars," he says. "I make a living off of them selling cars for me."

Young's management philosophy has helped him attract talented employees by offering them a chance to make money as well as outlets for advancement. "Most dealerships are run by second-and third-generation dealers. If you were in this business, who would you want to work for--the new guy on the block or the one that's been around for 30 years?"

Most of his sales and service staff is white, as are most of Young's customers. Indeed, his dealership is located in the northeastern part of the county, in "a predominantly white, middle-class bedroom community." Clearly, his early experiences selling to mainly white customers has paid off. "The important thing I learned from Michael [Christopolous] was that if you treat everybody like they're your good friend, you can sell them anything."

To be successful dealer in the '90s, Young believes that you must be committed to your customer's needs. "If you don't take care of the customer, you won't be around long," he says, adding, "I can't grow without maintaining a customer-driven organization." He and his staff accomplish this through good follow-up services, listening to customer feedback and making their dealership "user friendly."

Active in his community, Young is a board member of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, sponsors an annual high school basketball tournament, speaks to local church groups, and has been known to sing at local arts benefits. An avid tennis player, Young proudly displays a photo of himself with the late Arthur Ashe. He is a divorced father, and two of his three children have left the nest. One of them, 21-year-old Kymberly, is toying with the idea of taking over the dealership when Young retires, although she doesn't share her father's penchant for 14-hour days.

But Young isn't retiring for some time yet. He figures his dealership is finally ready to perform at its full potential. "Now that I've gotten a lot of bugs out of the system, I want to own as many [auto dealerships] as I can run successfully," he says. "But first, I want this one to be the best."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:21st Annual Report on Black Business: B.E. Auto Dealer of the Year; Alan Young Buick-GMC Truck
Author:Bray, Hiawatha
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Words:2350
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