February 2011, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive
Autoline Excels with a Different Dealership Approach
Owner Ryan Corey with his wife, Suzanne, who handles human resources.
Autoline – an independent dealership in Atlantic Beach, Fla. – doesn’t fit the mold of what one might consider a “traditional” dealership. Autoline lives and breathes an original, laid-back style.
Outside, the funky logo with “Autoline” in offset lettering and varied fonts stands out on the building exterior, and speakers built into the lot/grounds play reggae music throughout the day. There’s also a basketball court out front where customers can come and shoot baskets.
Inside, the showroom’s décor features bright blue walls adorned with portraits of Bob Marley and enlarged black-and-white prints. The staff, save for the occasional button-up shirt, wears a very relaxed uniform of a black t-shirt, polo or hoodie with jeans, sneakers or flip-flops and sometimes an Autoline baseball cap.
Owner Ryan Corey said, “Autoline was founded, built and designed to be completely opposite a traditional car dealership. Our approach is completely laid-back … but I assure you, we are serious about selling cars and building our business.”
Auto Corey, Autoline guard dog and greeter, sits proudly in front of the store logo.
While the company’s style has remained consistent since it all began in 2004, other aspects of the operation have changed quite a bit. Corey initially opened Autoline as a means of generating more capital to grow his skateboard company, Flatline. “I had grown up around car dealerships with my dad and had a good knowledge about the car business. I had also been buying cars at auctions since I was 17, so with a savings of $16,000 and a small personal line of credit I decided to give it a shot,” he said.
The business opened with a handful of pre-owned vehicles and what Corey described as a “really sad example of what used to be a car lot with a tiny, dilapidated trailer.” He recalled, “Most people thought I was crazy, but with lots of hard labor, we made the place look nice. Next, I spent everything I had, purchased eight cars, and Autoline was off and running.”
Sales quickly ramped up and Autoline experienced some growing pains. “After three months, I got a floor plan, started stocking 30 cars and selling about the same per month … Autoline was growing at a fast rate and turning my skateboard buddies into auto detailers and car salesmen … [It was] pretty funny,” said Corey.
Soon came the time when the “tiny, dilapidated” (but fixed-up) trailer wasn’t big enough, so he decided to build a larger facility. He said “[We] stayed in the trailer for about three years and got sales up to 60 to 80 units per month … The doors opened on the new building in January 2009. Since then, we have increased our average sales by about 50 units per month. Current year, we are averaging 118 cars a month.”
The new Autoline building and lot sits across from the store's original location, which now serves as a "budget lot" for vehicles priced at $7,000 or less.
Construction on the new building began around the time the economy crashed and Corey said, “I was freaking out, thinking, ‘Here I am putting up a $1.3 million building and everyone else is closing their doors.’” However, the dealership overcame the challenges of the economy, opened the new dealership on schedule and transformed the old lot (which is across the street from the new store) into a “Budget Lot” with “cash cars under $7,000,” which Corey said are mainly trade-ins and “mechanically sound but may need some cosmetic work.” The new lot, AKA the “Showcase Lot,” displays “fully reconditioned cars from $7,000 to $35,000.” Between the two lots, the dealership stocks around 200 vehicles, and as for how the operation is run, he said, “We run the dealership like one big lot with two different display areas.”
Back when the dealership had just opened in 2004 and Corey said “we,” he was referring to himself and his brother, Joey Corey. Nowadays, “we” alludes to a staff of 33 people. Joey, whom Corey said “has been a major key to our success,” is now the general sales manager, and their father, Joe Sr. (general manager), joined the Autoline team about three years ago. Corey said his father “has made a tremendous difference for us. I’ve never known someone so dedicated to this business, and every day he shows up motivated to push our salesmen to sell more cars.”
The dealership's sitting area, accessories wall and one of the many Bob Marley paintings.
Shedding some light on how his son was introduced to the business and how Autoline is an anomaly, Joe Sr. said, “My father was in the business for 50 years, and I’ve been in the business for 40 years. My son started down here at Atlantic Beach, where nobody’s ever sold a lot of cars … I’ve just never seen a place go from point A to point B as quick as this place has.” When he first joined his sons in business, he helped build the dealership’s Internet presence
, including partnering with AutoTrader.com, and he focused on creating a stronger finance department.
Although he’s certainly proud of his sons and the business, he was quick to add that he wasn’t praising the dealership just because his son owns it; Joe Sr. spent decades running big franchise organizations and knows a successful operation when he sees one. “This place is like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” he said, adding that he’s glad his son stayed away from the corporate side of the business.
“I told [Ryan] I didn’t want him to get involved in the corporate world because I wanted him to have a better life than I had, instead of working 80, 90 hours a week like I had to,” he said. Autoline is a “family and friends operation,” and working long, tiring hours just isn’t in the cards there. “If somebody’s got something they want to do, they want to go play golf, they can go play golf. Our whole atmosphere is laid-back, and it’s amazing to me that people just keep coming back and buying cars and recommending people.”
The Autoline family stands in front of the accessories wall.
Four other relatives of Corey’s help keep Autoline running smoothly. His wife, Suzanne, handles human resources; his sister, Kelli, works in the Internet department; his mother, Kim, is in customer service; and his stepmother, Lynn, is the office manager. Other employees are old friends from high school and the days when Corey was operating Flatline. Nowadays, his sole focus is the dealership, and that’s more than enough to keep him and the Autoline team busy, considering it has seen a growth in volume of almost 400 percent since it opened.
While around 60 percent of the dealership’s sales are financed indirectly, the remaining, said Corey, are cash deals. He added that they don’t do buy here pay here “unless it’s a special circumstance,” but the dealership does see a fair amount of customers needing special financing. About 40 percent of the dealership’s finance deals are subprime.
An Autoline print ad featuring GSM Joey Corey jumping a Beetle full of employees.
He strives for the dealership’s traditional marketing
to be similar to the whole look and feel of the operation—“different than traditional dealerships.” For radio spots, he said, “We do off-the-wall things that a franchise dealership could never do. We take local musicians, create original radio commercials using the artist’s songs and incorporate an advertisement for our dealership. This sounds different to the average consumer and also helps the local talent get radio play.”
One of the dealership’s print ads featured Joey on his skateboard doing a heelflip over a VW Beetle convertible with the top down and full of Autoline employees cheering him on. And their television spots are no different. “We have done goofy TV commercials making fun of the stereotypical car salesman; one promotion we did was: Buy a car and get a free keg of beer.”
Keeping the momentum of the growing operation, Corey recently purchased some property next door to the new building, and in September he opened a service department for internal and customer-pay work. “We had been running with three in-house mechanics that stay busy working on our internal inventory.” They had sublet the remaining work in the past, but can now handle much more of their work.
As for the store’s future, Corey said, “We will continue to work hard and be as innovative as possible, at the same time overcoming the stereotypical stigma of the traditional car dealer. We are planning on opening a second location and have even been approached a lot lately about franchising. So we will have to wait and see!”
Vol. 7, Issue 11