New dealership owner optimistic about selling electric vehicles

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Some dealers are finding that the next generation isn’t interested in staying in the retail auto business. Selling cars still appeals to many who grew up at their family dealership, however.

That’s certainly the case with Jessica Stahl, who just acquired her first dealership. Stahl relishes the retail auto industry.

“It is fun,” she says. “It is different every day, it’s challenging, it’s changing, it’s growing, it’s competitive. I played sports while growing up and it checks a lot of boxes for me.”

Stahl, 33, is the new dealer principal of Jessica Chevrolet, located in Honeoye Falls, NY. She acquired it in late September from Vito Arbore. He and his son were ready to exit the retail auto business, says Stahl.

Jessica Chevrolet is now part of the Bob Johnson Auto Group, of which Stahl’s father Greg Stahl, is owner. But Jessica Chevrolet is a stand-alone store, she says.

The actual sale happened quickly, but it wasn’t the first time the Bob Johnson group had tried to acquire the Honeoye Falls store, says Jessica Stahl. The Group discussed buying the store with Arbore in the past, but the two sides couldn’t agree on terms.

“They had another deal fall through and reached back out to Bob Johnson,” said Stahl. “We thought it would be a good store for me.”

As Arbore was intent on selling and had the deal written up, “it happened fast,” she said.

The facility is image compliant, but in order to become “compliant” to sell EVs, Stahl was required by General Motors to invest in training, tools, and chargers.

For Jessica Chevrolet, that included buying a forklift for the heavy EV batteries, adding Level 2 and DC fast chargers, adding a NEMA plug, and staff training.

“It’s not as easy as saying ‘hey, we are going to sell a Blazer EV,” says Stahl. “You definitely have to get ready for it.”

Stahl is optimistic about EV sales. Her dealership was already selling a lot of Bolt EVs, she says, crediting its proximity to Rochester, which is home to a number of universities including the Rochester Institute of Technology, with creating a market.

“We want to be very forward-thinking. It is worth taking a chance on and we are excited about” selling electric vehicles, she says.

Stahl brought in a general manager and a new service and parts director. She is also looking to add salespeople and office staff. The previous owners had “dwindled down their business” as they were trying to sell, says Stahl.

Being part of a larger group is useful as she looks to grow her operations, says Stahl. For example, her service and parts director is new, and “we can lean on the director of the entire group to give us some love and attention,” she says.

Jessica Chevrolet is also able to buy (and sell) inventory within the Bob Johnson Group, but she could definitely use more inventory, says Stahl. The previous owners were basically just selling down pre-sold inventory, she says.

Now, Jessica Chevrolet must convince the factory that it deserves more inventory, says Stahl. “We are hoping that as we increase sales maybe the factory can help us out. It is definitely still a struggle.:

The store is on the right track – under the previous ownership it was selling six to eight vehicles a month, says Stahl. In October it sold 30, and it sold 20 in November. “We are off to a good start,” she says.

Stahl began working in her father’s dealerships when she was 16, as a “lot kid,” polishing cars and straightening out the lot, she says. She also worked as a district manager for General Motors in North Carolina, Vermont, and Georgia before attending the NADA Academy, which prepares students to operate a successful and profitable dealership.

Working as a district manager in such diverse markets was “good for me because I saw so many different mindsets,” says Stahl. “Mindsets that the small, medium, and larger stores had.”

Stahl is working on upgrading Jessica Chevrolet’s office infrastructure, including the phone system and internet site.

She sees the most opportunity in boosting sales, including boosting the customer experience. That may also win back some service customers who “left unhappily,” she says. But “nothing starts until you sell a car.”

Stahl isn’t looking to acquire more stores in the near term. “I want to focus on this one and it get it to a really good spot,” she says. “I want to make this my baby.”

This article was written for Getting to Go, a buy/sell newsletter from Scali Rasmussen.