Driven to succeed: Herb Chambers
Courtesy of:Ã‚Â Boston Business Journal
Herb ChambersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ name is synonymous with his car dealership empire Ã‚ÂÃ¢â‚¬â€ Ã‚Âas well as his ubiquitous commercial jingle.
But Chambers, who never attended college, actually got his start selling copy machines, not cars, before he made the transition to dealerships in 1985.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve always loved cars ever since I was a child,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
Despite the brutal automotive sales market, Chambers, who operates 45 dealerships across New England, has had a decent year by most accounts. October sales were up over last year, and year over year, sales volume will be comparable, although profitability is expected to improve because of cost controls, he said. In 2009, he opened four new dealerships.
He recently sat down with Boston Business Journal reporter Lisa van der Pool to discuss business.
How is business going, post Cash-for-Clunkers?
Cash-for-Clunkers gave the industry a huge spike, but in lower-cost cars. The problem was that we werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t prepared for Cash-for-Clunkers. The result was that we exhausted our inventory very quickly. And we had very few cars Ã‚ÂÃ¢â‚¬â€ at some dealerships we had no cars Ã¢â‚¬â€ left. At the same time nobody told the factories there was going to be a Cash-for-Clunkers program. So what happened with the economy, and car sales being down earlier in the year, is that the factories cut way back on production, because there was a glut of cars out there. Then all of a sudden, Cash-for-Clunkers comes along and exhausts the supply of cars. We delivered close to 1,200 cars.
What do you think of the governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s bailout of the automobile industry?
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s too soon to judge. The domestic auto companies are in a mess. The executives are being changed almost daily. The
canceling of dealers is very troubling. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had family businesses that will not be in existence any more. We are fortunate because we have been able to keep all of our dealerships Ã¢â‚¬â€ except Pontiac and Saturn.
Has advertising been a key part of your business strategy from the beginning?
We spend an awful lot of money advertising. The good news is that with the technology today we can monitor calls coming into dealerships, and people coming to our Web site. Because today about 80 percent of people, before they buy a car, they go online.
Are fuel-efficient cars here to stay?
Absolutely, positively. EverybodyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s talking about bluetech diesels and hybrids. The name of the game is youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to deliver great mileage. EverybodyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be in the hybrid business. I think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a great thing because weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going to use up less oil.
What kind of car do you drive?
I change cars a lot because I love them. And I can. The people at all my dealerships hate to see me coming because they always know IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going to take one of the nice cars. Right now, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m driving a Bentley Coupe.
Three greatest passions?
My family, my business and automobiles. Because I love automobiles, I collect them.
How many cars do you have?
I used to have 25, now I have about 15 or 20 now. I have older cars, some from the Ã¢â‚¬â„¢50s. Part of the problem with collecting old cars is that theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re great to look at, but they drive terribly. But I like to drive, so IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been selling off some of the old cars that I have and replacing them with some exciting automobiles. For example I have a Mercedes-Benz SLR convertible, which is a car we sell. They ended the production on the car so I think it will be a very good investment. I have a new Lamborghini, which I think is a very exciting car to drive.
Trait that gives you a competitive edge?