Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

A Chip off the Old Block

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

A Chip off the Old Block

Article excerpt

It's hard to imagine a man biting harder at the bit than Jerry Richardson. A man more devoted to his family than Jerry Richardson. A man happier than Jerry Richardson.

At age 58, the part-owner of the Fred Jones Automotive Group officially retired from its parts management post in October, though he still keeps an office at the giant Ford dealership's headquarters so as to not overwhelm his wife -- who he notes married him in sickness and in health, but not to have him hanging around the house. A dapper man, he attributes his sharp dress to Joyce as well.

"I love loud suspenders," he reveals, apologizing for not wearing them to our meeting, "but I'm a Ken doll. My wife, she says I have absolutely no sense of style, so she picks out all my clothes for me. I pick out my suspenders and my underwear, and that's about it."

So speaks the devoted husband. But from the attentive eye Jerry still gives his office, it seems unlikely the energetic auto veteran would overlook any detail impacting his business plans. Standing just under six foot, stout and direct, he walks with the confident swagger of someone ready to scale the mountains of Peru -- which indeed he did during his Thanksgiving vacation. He has another adventure in the works for the spring, this one a journey to India. But between them, and beyond them, he has plotted new business worlds to conquer.

He has just purchased LPM of Oklahoma, a Nissan forklift dealer employing 40 in Oklahoma City. He intends to expand his used car dealership, Motor City in Bethany. He has plans to clear and sell or develop the four acres across May Avenue from his old dealership, Dub Richardson Ford. And that's just for starters.

So with all that energy, why leave the Fred Jones Automotive Group, which arguably is at the cutting edge of an auto sales revolution?

"Maybe the challenge wasn't there," he reflects.

Dub Richardson was the nation's eighth-largest Ford parts dealer in 1998, when Ford brought nearly all of its area franchises together to form what was originally called the Oklahoma City Auto Collection. Fred Jones Ford, meanwhile, had the third-largest parts operation. Merging them created the largest of all Ford parts suppliers in the United States -- and yet it was practically a seamless deal.

"Both departments run like a clock," Jerry boasts. "Quite frankly, they didn't need a lot of guidance.

"What was interesting about this, though, was that when we finally started getting together, what we found was that we had two totally different markets. Our cross-purposes were virtually nil."

His old dealership had built its niche on body shops and related markets in and about Oklahoma, while Fred Jones' parts department had centered on fleet service, both local and nationwide.

"Here we were, we'd been knocking heads all these years, and as it turns out, we had hardly any of the same customers."

So with that element of the merger taking care of itself, he helped the automotive group consolidate its real estate holdings and decided to step aside, his ledger primed for other investments. For in truth, "I found out I didn't make a very good employee."

"I just really was so used to being my own boss," admits Richardson, who had spent his entire working life at his father's dealerships, outside his days at the University of Oklahoma and the following military stint. "I only had two bosses my whole life. One was the U.S. Navy, and one was my dad. So it was pretty hard for me to have a boss."

In no way does that suggest he was second-guessing his sale of Dub Richardson Ford, which had led the metro Ford market with annual sales of 3,500-4,000 new and used vehicles. "I thought from the beginning that it was a neat deal," he states. "I still feel this way."

The reasons come straight out of Economics 101. Consolidation brought tremendous economies of scale to bear for all the owners: halving their multimillion-dollar advertising budgets, slashing their floor-plan costs, improving their insurance and workers compensation coverage, and cutting operational expenses from brick and mortar to uniforms to paper usage. …

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