“Printed with permission of Automotive News”
POSITION: Executive manager, Walker Cadillac-Buick-GMC, Carrollton, Ga.
ACHIEVEMENT: More than doubled retail sales, profits in five years
In the eighth grade, Mark Foster realized he wanted to be around cars because “it was sexy.”
“I have always been mesmerized by the car business,” Foster said. “I love cars and I love people.”
As a teenager, Foster spent his free time downloading so much car information from the website of his hometown dealership, Walker Cadillac-Buick-GMC, that his name popped up repeatedly as a lead. When his uncle went to buy a car there one day, he told the owner, “You have to hire my nephew.”
Foster became the dealership’s Internet specialist two days after he graduated from high school in June 2000. He had planned to attend a local university, but the dealership’s general manager told him, “You need to go to this college in Michigan,” directing him to Northwood University. Foster graduated from there in December 2004 and returned to the dealership as its controller. Two years later, he graduated from the NADA Dealer Academy. That summer, dealership founder Joe Whit Walker died. Amid the management changes, Foster became the store’s general manager.
“I told his son, Greg, ‘I am going to run your dealership as if it were my own and it was my own money,’ ” Foster recalled.
First, Foster made sure he had the right people in the right jobs. Then he set about stocking more fast-turning new vehicles and pricing them to move. “With GM’s repayment programs, it made financial sense to sell in volume and we doubled our sales volume in less than five years,” he said. “We bought three neighboring properties and bulldozed buildings to stock more inventory.”
The dealership now sells about 1,200 new and used vehicles a year, vs. 550 five years ago, he said, while dealership total profitability has more than doubled. “The more you sell, the more you make, even though you’re making less per unit,” Foster said.
The higher volumes also gave the store a chance to build a reputation and win customer loyalty. “We have hundreds of customers who’ll drive, on average, more than 80 miles here to buy a car,” said Foster. “The price got them here. The service has kept them coming back.”
For customers within a two-hour drive of the dealership, Foster offers to have his driver pick up their vehicle, leave a loaner car, take their vehicle in for servicing and return it when the work is done. Foster said that amenity has “blossomed into something huge.”