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Soldotna auto dealer expands to Kenai, focuses on customers

Posted: Thursday, November 28, 2002

If money is the apple pie of business, then it can be presumed that the biggest kid at the table will eat the most -- if not all. So when a smaller kid is able to survive, and even thrive, in this kind of environment, that smaller kid is doing well.

This is the case of Shawn and Jana Whitmores' Soldotna used car business, Alaska's Auto Country, that just opened a second auto store in Kenai, directly across the street from one of the largest new and used auto retailers on the Kenai Peninsula, Kenai Chrysler Center.

"I picked that area because of the location," Shawn Whitmore said. "With Big K Mart, McDonald's, and Kenai Chrysler right there, it's the perfect location to receive the most exposure.

"I figured that I wasn't getting enough of my share of the market. The more car dealers there are in an area, the more business you'll receive."

Whitmore said started in auto sales in 1975 and has long since had the ambition of owning his own dealership. Three years ago, he said he and his wife made that dream come true, opening his main store in Soldotna on the Kenai Spur Highway.

'I wanted to prove to the general public that there is integrity with owning a used car dealership.',/b>

--Shawn Whitmore,

owner,

Alaska's Auto Country

Whitmore said part of his motivation to run a dealership was to stifle the stigma that used auto salespeople didn't play fairly.

"I wanted to prove to the general public that there is integrity with owning a used car dealership," he said. "We do things a little differently here."

First, Whitmore said he tries to shy away from older model cars and focus on late model vehicles.

"We specifically target terminated lease vehicles," he said. "If you get into older models, no matter how hard you try to represent the car, you're still going to have problems."

Pointing out that he had outgrown his current Soldotna office, Whitmore said he is building new facilities with an open floor to help ease customers' minds during price negotiations.

"There are no offices," he said. "There are no behind-door sales deals. Everything we do is right out front. A customer can feel uneasy when they don't know everything that's going on when they're purchasing a car."

Whitmore said service is what he wants to drive his business. He said this is why he opened a detail shop across the highway from his Soldotna store, to offer the painting and cleaning services to customers and to be able to do thorough cosmetic maintenance work on cars he plans to sell. And the dealership subcontracts all of the mechanical work to Ace Automotive.

He said he is content being a small business, because too much growth could cause the company to lose touch with its customer base.

"I've seen a lot of dealers start out with the absolute best intentions," he said, "but become so large that the quality of service becomes inadequate."

As the economy, both in Alaska and across the nation, continues to ebb and flow, Whitmore said he believes his company has managed to come out better as opposed to worse. He said the dealership's recent new endeavors are evidence.

"Obviously, we are successful," he said. "October dividend time didn't meet my expectations, but my projections for this year have exceeded what I anticipated."

And what should happen to Alaska's Auto Country if the bottom should fall out of the economy?

"If the pie becomes smaller, I'm still going to strive to get my portion."

BYLINE1:By MARCUS K. GARNER

BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

If money is the apple pie of business, then it can be presumed that the biggest kid at the table will eat the most -- if not all. So when a smaller kid is able to survive, and even thrive, in this kind of environment, that smaller kid is doing well.

This is the case of Shawn and Jana Whitmores' Soldotna used car business, Alaska's Auto Country, that just opened a second auto store in Kenai, directly across the street from one of the largest new and used auto retailers on the Kenai Peninsula, Kenai Chrysler Center.

"I picked that area because of the location," Shawn Whitmore said. "With Big K Mart, McDonald's, and Kenai Chrysler right there, it's the perfect location to receive the most exposure.

"I figured that I wasn't getting enough of my share of the market. The more car dealers there are in an area, the more business you'll receive."

Whitmore said started in auto sales in 1975 and has long since had the ambition of owning his own dealership. Three years ago, he said he and his wife made that dream come true, opening his main store in Soldotna on the Kenai Spur Highway.

Whitmore said part of his motivation to run a dealership was to stifle the stigma that used auto salespeople didn't play fairly.

"I wanted to prove to the general public that there is integrity with owning a used car dealership," he said. "We do things a little differently here."

First, Whitmore said he tries to shy away from older model cars and focus on late model vehicles.

"We specifically target terminated lease vehicles," he said. "If you get into older models, no matter how hard you try to represent the car, you're still going to have problems."

Pointing out that he had outgrown his current Soldotna office, Whitmore said he is building new facilities with an open floor to help ease customers' minds during price negotiations.

"There are no offices," he said. "There are no behind-door sales deals. Everything we do is right out front. A customer can feel uneasy when they don't know everything that's going on when they're purchasing a car."

Whitmore said service is what he wants to drive his business. He said this is why he opened a detail shop across the highway from his Soldotna store, to offer the painting and cleaning services to customers and to be able to do thorough cosmetic maintenance work on cars he plans to sell. And the dealership subcontracts all of the mechanical work to Ace Automotive.

He said he is content being a small business, because too much growth could cause the company to lose touch with its customer base.

"I've seen a lot of dealers start out with the absolute best intentions," he said, "but become so large that the quality of service becomes inadequate."

As the economy, both in Alaska and across the nation, continues to ebb and flow, Whitmore said he believes his company has managed to come out better as opposed to worse. He said the dealership's recent new endeavors are evidence.

"Obviously, we are successful," he said. "October dividend time didn't meet my expectations, but my projections for this year have exceeded what I anticipated."

And what should happen to Alaska's Auto Country if the bottom should fall out of the economy?

"If the pie becomes smaller, I'm still going to strive to get my portion."

HEAD:Soldotna auto dealer expands to Kenai; focuses on customers

BYLINE1:By MARCUS K. GARNER

BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

If money is the apple pie of business, then it can be presumed that the biggest kid at the table will eat the most -- if not all. So when a smaller kid is able to survive, and even thrive, in this kind of environment, that smaller kid is doing well.

This is the case of Shawn and Jana Whitmores' Soldotna used car business, Alaska's Auto Country, that just opened a second auto store in Kenai, directly across the street from one of the largest new and used auto retailers on the Kenai Peninsula, Kenai Chrysler Center.

"I picked that area because of the location," Shawn Whitmore said. "With Big K Mart, McDonald's, and Kenai Chrysler right there, it's the perfect location to receive the most exposure.

"I figured that I wasn't getting enough of my share of the market. The more car dealers there are in an area, the more business you'll receive."

Whitmore said started in auto sales in 1975 and has long since had the ambition of owning his own dealership. Three years ago, he said he and his wife made that dream come true, opening his main store in Soldotna on the Kenai Spur Highway.

Whitmore said part of his motivation to run a dealership was to stifle the stigma that used auto salespeople didn't play fairly.

"I wanted to prove to the general public that there is integrity with owning a used car dealership," he said. "We do things a little differently here."

First, Whitmore said he tries to shy away from older model cars and focus on late model vehicles.

"We specifically target terminated lease vehicles," he said. "If you get into older models, no matter how hard you try to represent the car, you're still going to have problems."

Pointing out that he had outgrown his current Soldotna office, Whitmore said he is building new facilities with an open floor to help ease customers' minds during price negotiations.

"There are no offices," he said. "There are no behind-door sales deals. Everything we do is right out front. A customer can feel uneasy when they don't know everything that's going on when they're purchasing a car."

Whitmore said service is what he wants to drive his business. He said this is why he opened a detail shop across the highway from his Soldotna store, to offer the painting and cleaning services to customers and to be able to do thorough cosmetic maintenance work on cars he plans to sell. And the dealership subcontracts all of the mechanical work to Ace Automotive.

He said he is content being a small business, because too much growth could cause the company to lose touch with its customer base.

"I've seen a lot of dealers start out with the absolute best intentions," he said, "but become so large that the quality of service becomes inadequate."

As the economy, both in Alaska and across the nation, continues to ebb and flow, Whitmore said he believes his company has managed to come out better as opposed to worse. He said the dealership's recent new endeavors are evidence.

"Obviously, we are successful," he said. "October dividend time didn't meet my expectations, but my projections for this year have exceeded what I anticipated."

And what should happen to Alaska's Auto Country if the bottom should fall out of the economy?

"If the pie becomes smaller, I'm still going to strive to get my portion."



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