Photo: AutoNationAutoNation is the largest automotive group in Florida. It's No. 4 on the Biggest Public Companies in the state.
Florida's Biggest Companies
Top 10 Florida car dealers
Revenue: $17.5 billion,
Public No. 4
AutoNation is the biggest automotive dealership in the country. The Fort Lauderdale company had $17.5 billion in sales last year, a 12% increase from the year before. The company's share price rose from a low of $4.21 in October 2008 to about $56 a share in early June because of back-toback years of double-digit revenue and profit growth.
The AutoNation business strategy is uncommon. The typical car dealership owner tends to live locally and has close ties to a community, while AutoNation is a national brand with 221 dealerships affiliated with different car manufacturers throughout the country. The company has sold off underperforming dealerships while buying dealerships in more attractive growth markets.
AutoNation has rebranded all of its dealerships so they all carry the AutoNation name, hoping to strengthen the brand and customer loyalty. The company plans to invest $100 million this year in improving its online presence, reducing its dependency on third-party online sites like TrueCar.Com and AutoTrader.com for referrals.
Rick Case Automotive Group
Revenue: $896.1 million,
Private No. 47
The Rick Case automotive empire keeps on growing.
Last year, Case, who owns 15 dealerships in Florida, Ohio and Georgia, opened an eight-story, $18-million Volkswagen dealership in Davie that became the largest in sales and size in the country the first month it was in business.
By early 2015, Case plans to open another dealership that will sell Kia vehicles and be "the world's largest Kia dealership" by size, Case says. The $20-million dealership will be near Sawgrass Mills mall in Sunrise, occupying 268,000 mostly covered square feet. Case already has Honda, Hyundai, Fiat and its Volkswagen dealerships in the same area of western Broward County near Interstate 75, attracting customers from Palm Beach or Miami-Dade counties. He also has Acura and Hyundai dealerships in Fort Lauderdale.
Case is also moving his headquarters from Fort Lauderdale to Sunrise. "It's growth — we need more room," he says. The new office in Sunrise will house 60 corporate employees.
"Our business has been great ever since the summer of 2009," Case says. "We recovered quickly, and we've been having our best year ever in 2011 and 2012."
Sales are so good that in addition to the new Kia dealership, Case is investing in an Maserati/Alfa Romeo dealership that was scheduled to open in August.
Alfa Romeo, owned by Fiat Chrysler, is trying to sell its cars in the United States for the first time since the mid-1990s. "We will also be getting the Maserati franchise," Case says. The Maserati/Alfa Romeo $5-million dealership will go in next door to the Fiat facility.
Morgan Auto Group
Revenue: $613.5 million
Private No. 68
Morgan Auto Group, based in Tampa, owns 12 dealerships, all in Florida. "We go from Gainesville to the north to Sarasota in the south," says owner Larry Morgan.
Morgan's dealerships sell a variety of vehicles, from Fords and Hondas to Lamborghinis and BMWs. Morgan says he has a contract to acquire another dealership. And, he says, he's made an application for another new store. His most recently opened dealership is a Mini Cooper dealership in Wesley Chapel, a suburb of Tampa.
Sales have picked up since the recession, he says, which was a "very difficult time." To cut costs without laying off many people, Morgan says, he had "our own people doing the landscaping, washing windows. We got down to the nitty gritty."
Sales began improving in 2010 and have risen each year since, he says. Last year, Morgan completed a $13-million renovation of his Ford store in Port Richey and is about to start on a renovation of his BMW dealership in Sarasota. He estimates it will cost "somewhere in the range of $5 million to $6 million."
Like all dealers, Morgan says he emphasizes customer service. In the course of closing a deal, all new- and used-car buyers can watch a video that lists Morgan's cell phone number. "I give it to them twice," Morgan says. "Maybe in three years I've gotten 10 phone calls. Nine were to say it was a great experience."