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Double Duty in Big D

November 2008, F&I and Showroom - Feature

by Tariq Kamal

Fifty years ago, William Chaney and Howard Conway partnered to form Chacon (pronounced “CHAY-con”) Motors, a one-store, buy-here, pay-here (BHPH) operation on Ross Avenue in Dallas. James Holt joined the partnership a short time later, and the three men set to work building a profitable business, eventually expanding to three locations before the partnership was amicably dissolved in 1986, with each partner taking one store.

William Chaney got the Ross Avenue operation, and he and wife Christine raised two sons, Gary and Darrell, in the family business. William handed the store down to his sons in 1992. The Chaney brothers formed a limited partnership and changed the name from Chacon Motors to Chacon Autos, beginning a process of expansion and transformation that would eventually turn what had started as a small used-car lot into an auto retail empire. Chacon Autos now operates six BHPH stores, including one in San Antonio, and two Dallas-area Suzuki franchises.

Gary’s daughter, Stefani Musick, is the company’s controller. She says that, at each location, Chacon is a family business in every sense of the word.

“We have eight family members working full-time for the company,” she says. “Grandma still works six days a week.”

Indeed, though William has taken a less-active role in the company since ’92, his now 82-year-old wife didn’t slow down for a moment. “Miss Chris” still works the phones, sets appointments and closes deals at the Ross Avenue store. She sometimes sells cars to the grandchildren of customers she met decades earlier. Gary, Darrell, Stefani and husband Rock Musick, and Darrell’s son, Josh, all work together at the company’s Dallas headquarters. Gary’s son, Greg Chaney, led the company’s expansion into San Antonio and still runs the used-car store there.

Early success in BHPH

“There’s a lot of competition in buy-here, pay-here,” Darrell says. “More so than when the company got started. It’s mainly about keeping your own customers. That was instilled in us early on.”

From the beginning, the family was able to build and maintain a solid customer base by offering good cars — late-model, high-mileage units, including many under factory warranty — to customers who could afford them.

“We’re not trying to rip anybody off,” Gary says. “We want to sell to Mom, Dad and the kids. We want referrals. So we offer a good value and short terms. We want the customer to have equity in the car early on.”

When mechanical problems arise, no customer is turned away. “We do warranty nonfactory cars for limited time and miles,” Darrell says. “If a customer has a problem, we take care of it as best we can.”

“From the beginning, we would make repairs and finance that,” Gary adds. “We can still make loans for service, but a major problem for a repeat customer may mean trading it out for another car.”

The success of their customer-first philosophy allowed the brothers to undertake an aggressive expansion of the BHPH operation. Between 1992 and 2001, they purchased remote locations in Rowlett, Grand Prairie, Lewisville and Haltom City. In 2003, they sold the Rowlett Store and bought the Northwest Highway operation in Dallas. They moved the company headquarters there from Ross Avenue, which is still open as a remote lot. They also bought a location in San Antonio, 200 miles from the home office.

“San Antonio wasn’t an instant success,” Darrell says. “Customer service was difficult. It had its rough times, but it’s worked so far.”

Gary is sure that by heading up the San Antonio store, son Greg quickly learned what the Chaneys who sold cars before him already knew. There’s nothing like hands-on, day-to-day experience to learn a profession inside and out — even if it means long hours. “In this business,” Gary says, “you don’t get to work nine to five.”

Signing on with Suzuki

A year after moving the headquarters from Ross Ave. and starting operations in San Antonio, the brothers decided it was time the Chaney family got into franchise sales.

“We were tired of losing customers who wanted new cars,” Gary explains, “and we wanted to get some of the lenders who could give our customers a better interest rate.”

Down the road, Suzuki of New Braunfels was in need of new ownership.

“It was an existing franchise, not doing well at all,” Gary says. “We took over, built a new building, moved in there and started doing much better.”

The new dealership, renamed Chacon Suzuki, came with new challenges for the used-car veterans. “The move was pretty tough, and we’re still learning,” Darrell says. “We’re used to selling the customer, not the paper, and the lender’s doing the opposite. You can’t have rigid standards. You have to be able to get past that computer-generated ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”

“You still have to take care of the customer,” Gary adds. “We’ve learned that keeping customers is always harder the higher the credit score.”

“From the accounting perspective, it might be hard to see the advantages of opening a franchise,” Stefani Musick says. “We make more money at our BHPH operations. But the Suzuki stores added a lot of intangibles. We were able to expand our customer base and establish relationships with indirect lenders to finance both new and used purchases. The trade-ins provide another source of inventory, and Suzuki’s advertising reimbursement plan allows for increased advertising of the entire Chacon brand.”

The family found that marketing, which was almost an afterthought for the BHPH stores, is critical to franchise success. To supplement Suzuki’s advertising dollars, Rock Musick lent his TV-friendly name and personality to the dealership’s commercials. The move into new-car sales was successful enough that, one year after moving Chacon Suzuki of New Braunfels into the new building, the family was able to expand again. Chacon Suzuki of Dallas opened for business in May 2007.

The Chaney brothers say they’re not looking to open another store for a while, but they don’t intend to slow down their sales efforts, even in a hostile economic climate.

“In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, people aren’t big on public transportation,” Darrell says. “We have seen a small adjustment as far as values go, but this is Texas. We drive big trucks.”

No matter what the future holds, back at headquarters, Stefani Musick feels confident that the family’s approach to selling cars, new or used, will keep Chacon Autos in business for a long time.

“This is a great place to work,” she says. “I really feel like we’re doing something special here.”

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