Incoming NIADA President Pays It Foward Featured

By Jeffrey Bellant June 19, 2018

Andy Gabler is the incoming president of the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association. He is president of Lakeside Auto Group in Erie, Pa. Gabler owns two used-car dealerships and one franchise store.

 

Used Car News: How did you get into the car business?

 

Andy Gabler: I went to high school to be an automotive diesel mechanic. I had my own garage for a couple of years. I also did other things, like build houses. I worked in a shipyard, working on big motors.

I ended up hurting my shoulder and someone suggested selling cars. So I started selling cars at a new Mazda dealership. I was on the floor for almost a year and led the board every month. Then I got into finance and later special finance. I liked special finance a little bit more because it was dealing more with used cars. I always liked used cars and the money was always in used cars.

I left that store and became special finance manager at a Nissan store and became the used-car manager at that store. Then I went to a big auto campus where they had the full Dodge line and GM line. I was used-car manager there. I learned a lot.

Working at all those places, I learned a lot of things about what to do and a lot about what not to do. Some of those places just treated people horribly. That’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to help people. Profit’s not a dirty word, but you can treat people well and give then good products for a fair price.

In 2000, my wife got pregnant with our first son and I decided that I was ready to go (into business) on my own.

I opened a store in an old Shell gas station. The place was a mess, hadn’t been open in 20 years. It was about the only thing I could afford. I fixed the place up, built an office. I opened up one bay of the garage.

I did all my own detailing and worked on my cars. I learned to become a notary. I didn’t have a lot of money to work with. I had a lot of friends in the business where I’d borrow a lot of the ‘hoops’ from the new-car stores and sell those. For the first two years, I didn’t pull a dollar out of my store.

Then we had another son and business started to take off a little bit. After those couple of years of history, I was able to get a floor plan and started doing a little better. Five years into it, I found a piece of property on a four-lane highway three miles from where I was originally located and built a brand-new store. That’s my main used-car store today.

A few years after that, in 2009, I bought an old Dodge store that had gone out of business 28 miles away from my main store and opened up there.

In 2014, I closed on a Chevy-Buick franchise and I’ve had that ever since. Why I got into it? I wanted to do bigger and better. But the used-car business is so much more fun.

 

UCN: What is like to own a new-car store?

 

Gabler: It helped me appreciate the used-car business a lot more. It’s not as much fun. They’ve (squeezed) the margins out of new cars so much, if you don’t hit your numbers you don’t get anything. I like my used-car operation.

 

UCN: How do you see the retail auto climate?

 

Gabler: I think it’s getting a little better. We live in the Rust Belt and have seen a lot of industry leave. But there is other industry coming. I’m optimistic because technology has changed this business so much as far as what’s in a car, how to buy a car, how to fix a car, how to get it financed, etc.

Really, it’s changed so much. I can remember hand-writing bank contracts and state paperwork. I don’t even know if the state would take that anymore.

I always prided myself on being able to pick out a nice car. I was mechanic. I know what a nice car is. I know what one would sell for and what people would like about it. Now you walk around the auction and there’s not one person who doesn’t have a phone. They have every bit of information that everyone else has.

 

UCN: As you take the reins of the NIADA, the association is in a growth mode, acquiring the NABD in addition to Leedom & Associates a few years ago. How have these moves strengthened NIADA?

 

Gabler: With the acquisition of Leedom & Associates, we have taken the twenty group to the next level.

With NABD, (founder) Ken Shilson wanted to retire. But his heart really wanted someone with a passion for the car business to take that over.

We didn’t have a large presence in the buy-here, pay-here market going back four or five years. That’s a huge part of the used-car business across the country. With Leedom and Shilson, that kind of brought it under our wing.

It makes us more full spectrum.

Plus, this is a group that needs help with legislation coming down and regulation from the CFPB.

 

UCN: In a time when online options for wholesale buying are growing, what makes the physical lanes still appealing?

 

Gabler: There is still an excitement about touching, feeling, smelling and looking at that car in the lane. It’s hard to look at a car online. I’m not saying I don’t buy cars online, but I can look at a car going through the lane and I can picture it being sold. It’s real.

I do see that it is slowly shifting. Go to an auction today and look up at that screen and see how many people you are competing against that are online. You can’t say that it doesn’t have an impact, especially for us up in the north. If we get hit with a bunch of snow and I can’t get out of the store, I can still go online to a sale and buy cars.

But I like going to a physical auction. You talk to other dealers. You can hear what’s going on in the industry. You talk to some of the bank reps that are (representing) the cars. It’s something you cannot get sitting at your desk online.

 

UCN: What legislative issues are NIADA currently focused on?

 

Gabler: It is amazing. The last three to four years, we’ve made amazing strides.

The two things that are my heart and passion are legislation and education – decreasing legislation/regulation and increasing education.

Our ‘Day on the Hill’ event has grown every year since we went there and it’s only going to get better. I haven’t missed one of these events. We did an Auto Caucus in Washington a couple of months ago and met with staffers. Most of these kids are 24 or 25 years old. I would say 95 percent of them don’t drive. They are basically writing policy about an industry they don’t know a lot about.

What do you think they hear about the used-car business? They don’t hear about the great things the used-car dealers do for the community and the products that help people. So we went there and went through Car Buying 101, from the time a customer walks on a lot to (finance and insurance). So I think is for good for us and (educational) for them.

Now these guys are talking to us. They’re calling us. We have a voice there, without a doubt.

The other thing is getting the states to get together and realizing the strength in numbers. We’ve got some things coming along at NIADA that are going to help us do that.

We’ve had a couple of big wins with the rollback of some regulations of the CFPB. We’ve also got some other things we’ll talk about at the 2018 NIADA Convention & Expo.

It’s a beautiful time to be part of the NIADA. I’m very excited.

 

UCN: What are you hoping to achieve during your upcoming term as NIADA President?

 

Gabler: I’ll reiterate our focus on regulation and education. We’re probably one of the most over-regulated industries in the country and we have to try and control that.

We also have to keep enhancing education for the NIADA.

Educated dealers are going to do better things in their communities, sell better cars and make better decisions. Without the bigger hand of government, it will be easier for them.

We are also reintroducing the Certified Master Dealer Program at the convention.

 

UCN: What do you try to do to boost the image of dealers and help your community?

 

Gabler: I’ve been going out every week for almost four years for a program called ‘Pay it Forward.’ We teamed up with a television station here. My rep came to me with the idea to (participate) with ‘Pay it Forward.’ I thought it sounded kind of hokey, but she said ‘You can really inspire other people with this.’ It’s not a new idea. It’s been around 2,000 years.

So I got this truck that’s all lettered up with ‘Pay it Forward.’ I go out every Wednesday. The television news gives out clues every morning on where to meet us. When we first started, the first person to hit their hand on the truck had one hour to give away $100 to someone in need or a non-profit that needed the money.

(For safety reasons), we now just have people meet us and pick a card and the highest card wins. The person who wins receives $300 and has to give it away within the hour. The news station comes with us and we follow the person. It’s inspired other businesses to come out.

Recently we had our record giveaway of $1,550. We had three unions that matched it and other groups. We gave it to a retirement home that was trying to build a chapel for their residents.

We’ve watched this inspire other people to go above and beyond for their communities. That’s really what dealers are about. It’s being out in their communities and going above and beyond. I wish I could do this every day.

 

 

 

 

 

Last modified on Friday, 22 June 2018 21:50