After getting kicked out of high school for fighting 53 years ago, Carl Moyer wasted no time. Already working in a gas station, the 17-year-old Iowa boy accelerated a hobby: buying old cars to fix up and sell
By 1978, after several stints managing dealerships, Moyer acquired a Chevrolet store in Ankeny, Iowa. Tucked in a 1947 building with a one-car showroom, the dealership then sold 300 new and used vehicles a year. Today, Karl Chevrolet has more than 400 employees and sells 7,000 new and used vehicles from a 150,000-square-foot building on 30 acres in suburban Des Moines.
While Moyer doesn't endorse dropping out of school, he credits his real-world experience for where he is today.
And Moyer still adheres to that approach. Though Karl Chevrolet now is routinely one of the top five Chevy stores in new-vehicle sales in the country, Moyer continues to try new things. Vehicle sales and revenue are up even during the industry downturn. He has pushed his certified used, accessories and tire businesses to the top of Chevy's rankings, too. Karl Chevrolet is Chevy's No. 1 certified used dealership for five years running.
Moyer's strategy has caught the attention of other retailers.
"Because of his reputation in the industry, Carl hosts many dealers from around the country who will come and visit his store," said Tom Kolski, regional vice president for Ally Financial, longtime provider of wholesale and retail financing to Karl Chevrolet.
Ally provides special underwriting support to the dealership for one of its most notable practices: the quarterly one-price sale, held for the past 15 years.
On the last Saturday of each quarter, Karl Chevrolet puts a no-dicker price on each of the 2,000 or so new and used vehicles on its lot. The sale begins at 7 a.m. The showroom is emptied of cars and filled with round tables for sitting down with customers.
"We'll sell 130 cars on that day" versus 50 on a typical Saturday, Moyer says. "It's an organized zoo."
The event features an unusual twist that Moyer describes as the sale's "magic." While greeters and sales representatives work with retail customers in the front of the store, Moyer runs a wholesale auction lane in the back trying to get top dollar for trade-ins.
Twenty or so independent used-car dealers are invited. They, along with Moyer's own wholesale representatives, use cell phones to put in silent bids on the vehicles. To encourage them to put in top dollar, Moyer gives a $100 bill to the high bidder on each car.
It works, Moyer says, because everybody wins: The independent dealers get good inventory, the retail customers get the maximum amount for their trade-ins, and Moyer wins by getting some good trade-ins himself and by driving retail buyers to his store.
Dealers also visit Karl Chevrolet to check out its 12-car indoor delivery area. It was highlighted at a recent Chevy event in Las Vegas.
Launched two years ago after periodic testing, the department is staffed by three full-time delivery coordinators. It has lanes to drive the cars in and out, and vehicles are lined up according to a computerized delivery schedule.
Delivery coordinators get the car detailed, change license plates and do everything necessary to get the customer out the door, Moyer says. The salesperson, other than giving a last thank you as the customer leaves, can move on to selling another car.
It helps the customer get out the door faster and in a more organized fashion. More important to Moyer, it drives productivity. That's a big focus area for him.
Appointments are made on the quarter-hour because it improves customers' promptness.
Moyer recently remodeled the finance and waiting area of the dealership to include two large monitors that track customer appointment times. An in-house programmer customized software that automates appointments as finance managers become available.
"I won't have a person in the F&I department sitting there staring out the window," Moyer says.
Moyer is competitive. After noticing how busy a tire store across the street was, he put more focus on tires. "We can kill him," Moyer recalls thinking.
First, he added inventory. "Shoot, I had this thing looking like a tire factory," he says.
And then they started selling. He doesn't make a lot of money on the tires, but it leads to more service work. "You get the car up on the hoist, and there's always something wrong with them," Moyer says.
Karl Chevrolet sold $1 million in tires in 2009, $2 million in 2010 and is on pace to sell $3 million this year.
Technicians measure tread wear on vehicles getting serviced and tell customers when replacements are needed. That info is entered into the customer database, and Karl Chevrolet sends tire promotions to those customers.
With monthly sales of $100,000, Karl Chevrolet is one of Chevy's top-selling accessories dealerships. Success in that area is about commitment, Moyer says.
He keeps about 50 vehicles tricked out from the accessories catalog on display around the dealership. They serve as inspiration to customers -- and all are available for sale.
Moyer offers incentives on accessory sales but forbids salespeople from talking about them before the car is sold. That prevents the accessories from being thrown into the car deal.
Moyer, a one-time professional drag racer, also has sideline businesses doing restorations, custom street rods and replicas of '63 and '67 Corvettes.
Better than ever
Unlike much of the auto retailing world, the recession was good to Moyer. In 2009, Karl Chevrolet had its best year ever to that point. In 2010, he topped it. And this year, new-car sales are up 11 percent through August.
Some new business has come from closed Chevy stores that failed or were rejected, he says, but most is from customers leaving other brands. Moyer has enjoyed the market share jump, but he wants more. "I think it's all mine, but nobody is going to agree with me," Moyer says. "I want it all."
With that attitude, he's not ready to retire. Moyer's three children -- sons Bret and Brad and daughter Pamela -- all work at the dealership. Bret, the general sales manager, eventually will be dealer principal, Moyer says.
But it likely will be a while.
Says Moyer: "I think I'll work until they shovel dirt on me."