Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Car Dealer Leaves `Thinking Big' to Others, Coasts to Stop

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Car Dealer Leaves `Thinking Big' to Others, Coasts to Stop

Article excerpt

The showroom is empty, with nary a new Olds nor Caddy to be seen. A few used cars sit outside. Back in the service department, a lone mechanic tinkers under the hood of an older-model Cadillac.

The scene is a faint echo of the last 30-plus years at Elder Cadillac-Oldsmobile on "the hill" on West Main Street in Belleville.

Bob Elder, president and founder, is closing up shop, choosing retirement over a potential move to a new mega-dealership near an interstate highway. Elder, 65, would be the first to admit that selling big hasn't been his style. "I was never a volume dealer," he says, calculating that a good year for him was selling maybe 300 new Cadillacs. That was back in Cadillac's heyday, "before we had the influx of all the imports," he recalls. Elder figures he has sold about 7,000 Cadillacs since opening for business in 1966, and an additional 1,000 Oldsmobiles since the Olds line was added in 1992. The Elder dealership is one of many caught up in the wave of General Motors Corp.'s Project 2000, a marketing blueprint calling for fewer but bigger sales outlets, with dealerships preferably situated near major highways. The Elder franchise went to Jack Schmitt Cadillac-Oldsmobile in Collinsville, which plans to join the growing auto-dealer ranks in O'Fallon, near Interstate 64. Elder says he understands this new volume-based approach to auto retailing, and has no regrets. "It costs the factory a lot of money to service the smaller dealers," he says. Elder will close up shop Friday, but he and general manager Carl Grumley will be around through October to sell the 10 or so used cars still on the lot and assist former customers asking about getting their cars serviced. Elder plans to sell the property to an auto service and body shop. Errand Boy, Farm Hand Elder got his start in the auto business in 1950 working for his uncle, E.B. Jones, who operated several car dealerships in the Metro East area. Elder started out as an "errand boy" and porter at age 17 at Norwest Motors at 20th and State streets in East St. Louis. He also chased car payments and repossessed cars. When Jones acquired a farm near Millstadt, Elder worked there, too. "I grew up on a farm near Villa Ridge, Missouri," he says, giving his qualifications as a farm hand. "He had me work out there in the summer." The farm was later developed into the Triple Lakes Golf Club, now managed by one of Elder's sons. …

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