With its impressive dealerships and flashy new vehicles – not to mention what appears to be great profits – it almost seems like anyone could build, own and stay ahead of the game in an industry that seems to constantly change.
After all, the car business is vitally important to the well-being of not only a city but the entire nation but the automobile business is the first to feel an impending crash of the economy. This was shown by the economic collapse of 2008-09 and the recovery that followed.
However, from the owner down to the lot porter who cleans the cars and sweeps the grounds, every corner of the car business has challenges. Many automobile dealership owners are also former athletes, and exceptional teamwork often is the difference between a good year and a mediocre year.
Several local automobile dealers have followed in the footsteps of their fathers, who opened the doors decades long before explosive growth made Las Vegas one of the fastest-growing cities in the country.
The old-time car dealers had foresight and they were astute businesspeople.
When Las Vegas was a tiny community, automobile executives like Pete Findlay, Don Ackerman, Fletcher Jones, Bill Heinrich, Jim Cashman and Fletcher Jones were digging in to set the groundwork in the industry.
In each case, the brilliant minds in the automobile business set the standards for others who saw opportunity in the desert.
Automobile sales are often the result of a dealer first being involved in Southern Nevada. From finding homes for unwanted pets to providing funds for various charities, car dealers have led the way for more than 50 years.
The earliest car dealers were at the forefront of the economy simply because their messages were consistent through good times and bad.
When local charities or non-profits need help, car dealers have set the pace in community involvement and have set the bar for other Southern Nevada businesses.
The new generation of new car dealers weathered the dreadful recession of 2000-09 but not without sleepless nights caused by reviewing budgets and considering the next move.
In just about every case, the prominent names of the car business survived the downturn although not without some sleepless nights. In some cases, dealers were in an expansion mode when the recession hit creating sleepless nights.
You can bet that the executives have often thought back to the advice of their fathers in the car business through good and bad times.
“My dad (Don) was always much more conservative in his business approach and that served me very well in my younger years,” recalled Gary Ackerman, whose dealerships include Gaudin Ford and Gaudin Porsche on I-215 east of Rainbow; and Ford Country in the Valley Automall. “When we built the Automall and Ford Country, he thought I had lost my mind. He would never even purchase real estate, only lease it.
“So when we were putting the financing together, I had created a business model for the new dealership. He reviewed what I had created, then suggested that I cut the revenue forecast by 50 percent and to see if the business would still be profitable. His quote was ‘always plan for the very worst, that way all your surprises will be good ones.’ I can’t tell you how many times I still hear his voice telling me that. He has been gone three years and it seems like yesterday to me. I still talk to him almost every week, and sometime, he even answers!!”
Cliff Findlay, the president of Findlay Automotive Group, can still remember the day more than 50 years ago when his father, Pete, and his mother Mary Jo, took the bold step of moving their family from the tiny Nevada town of Panaca to Las Vegas to start Pete’s Used Cars at 1600 E. Fremont St. in what proved to be the kick-start to a business that has grown to 28 dealerships in Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Arizona.
Back in the late 1990’s when the automotive group was tiny, Cliff Findlay took the bold step of securing the Saturn franchise. He built stores on West Sahara Avenue and in the Valley Automall, and the incredible success of the Saturn brand led to several other additions such as Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen, Acura, Lincoln and Kia, to name a few.
“I really didn’t want to leave (Panaca),” Cliff Findlay said in an interview in July of 2011. “It was hard for me to leave my friends in Panaca which had only about 300 people at the time.”
Cliff Findlay praised his father.
He was a visionary,” Findlay said. “There were only 48,000 people when we moved to the valley and my dad believed business was all about relationships.
“He did business with a handshake. He was a very honest man who loved his family.”
The Findlay umbrella has since grown to 28 dealerships in Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Oregon.
“I think that Cliff and I share a bond, as we both grew up in tight-knit families that happened to be in the car business,” Ackerman said. “Our parents were great couples that were very focused on their families and their communities. Both dads worked very hard and put in lots of hours. We had great role models.”
Ackerman said many years ago something that has illustrated not only the opportunities but also the risk related to children taking over dealerships from their parents.
“We all knew that we had been given incredible opportunities,” Ackerman said. “However, we all also knew that we had to be aware of the possibility that we could screw up what our parents created.”
Among other automobile executives who have followed their fathers into the business are Greg Heinrich, Ted Jones, Steve Olliges and Josh Towbin.
Each of the sons have been very successful in the car business.
Indeed, it’s Southern Nevada’s example of like father, like son. +