Stellantis eager to talk with prospective minority dealers

DALLAS — Stellantis’ dealer diversity team likes to build a bench of qualified candidates it can turn to when ownership opportunities arise, but they’ll need to replenish that roster after a whirlwind of activity in the last two years.

Stellantis had a net gain of 60 minority dealers in 2021 and 2022 combined after single-digit increases in 2020 and 2019. The automaker ended 2022 with 243 minority-owned stores.

The company’s dealer network is mature, so there aren’t many open points to be had, said Eric Wong, senior manager of market representation, dealer diversity and technology for Stellantis’ U.S. business. Minority candidates, Wong said, typically get their stores through a buy-sell transaction.

Wong, 44, spoke with Staff Reporter Vince Bond Jr. at the NADA Show about how it finds and matches minority dealer candidates to the right stores. He also explained what factors entrepreneurs should consider before moving to a new city to run a store. Here are edited excerpts.

Q: What are some of the challenges for you in this role? How do you find the people who are qualified for these dealerships?

A: We try to raise awareness through this platform. A lot of awareness campaigns happened pre-NADA, during NADA. Wanting to get the word out because in addition to our network of partners (the Chrysler Minority Dealers Association and National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers), there’s another world of talent that are not aware of what we do or how to get a hold of us. So the key thing is to get to those talents and let them know. Come have a conversation with us. Let us work with you to identify what is the right path to get you into an opportunity.

How does somebody who wants to get into a store one day find you?

First you start with Our URL is nonbranded, so when you type in, you come to us. Then we’ll have a conversation with the candidate after looking at three things because these are the things that are mapped that are most important. No. 1: We want to understand the candidate’s sphere of influence. What markets do you know you can step in? You have a bench of talent that you can bring with you or call upon. You can make an impact and build up that business. That’s that’s the first piece.

The second piece is size. We want to make sure that the size is right for the person given their experience, their capital level. For us, it’s not a cookie-cutter approach. We have a conversation with the candidate. The third and the most important thing is waiting for that opportunity to show up. We don’t have a lot of open points. Our network’s not in expansion mode, so a lot of that relies on buy-sell transactions and being able to pair the candidate into the buy-sell transaction.

Is there any funding assistance available for new dealers?

We used to have a dealer development program that has a corporate portfolio. We don’t have it anymore for internal reasons, but we do have different access to capital. For us, one of the things that we’re very cognizant of is the fact that candidates, particularly the first-time candidate who’s trying to break through that entrepreneurial ceiling, being able to secure their financial independence, if you will, a lot of that is predicated on access to capital.

We work with different banks in order to provide access to capital. We would take into consideration our involvement on a deal-by-deal basis. If it makes sense [and] we need to be involved in order to make the deal happen, we’ll evaluate it one on one.

Is there a particular area in the country where opportunities are more ripe to get a dealership?

It all depends on the market. At any given point in time, buy-sells could pop up in any market. I will tell you though, from a minority-representation standpoint, the smile states are always great for any manufacturer. When it comes to the Northeast, parts of the Great Lakes/Midwest region, those are always challenging.

Minority dealers sometimes retire and sell to a nonminority, and that can hurt the numbers. How do you feel about that issue?

You would like that minority owner/operator to consider selling to another minority owner/operator or giving that other minority owner/operator the opportunity. The flip side of the coin, which is where the frustration and the uncertainty about how to approach the topic comes in: OK, what if that wasn’t the highest bidding deal? As the person who built the business and not having anything to begin with and built the value in the business, how many percent am I willing to take less than what I’m being offered? That’s a personal judgment call. I think that’s the challenging part in that equation.

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