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Fast Lane

Looking back, Dealer Specialties franchisee John Walters knows he was in the right place at the right time. In 1992, the Raleigh, North Carolina, resident certainly wasn't looking to leave the automobile industry--he'd worked in auto servicing, then sales, for years. But when franchisor Dealer Specialties approached him with a lucrative prospect--helping dealers sell used cars via an innovative marketing concept based on state-of-the-art software--it was an offer the soon-to-be-entrepreneur couldn't refuse.

The Monroe, Ohio-based franchisor creates customized window stickers that give a professional presentation of used vehicles for sale. Similar to the window stickers that list the specs on new cars, the stickers provide detailed data such as make, model and options.

Before Walters signed on the dotted line, he presented the concept to four local dealerships. When they all jumped on the idea, Walters got a personal loan to cover the $25,000 start-up costs, traded in his convertible for a minivan and hit the road.

Doubling his previous salary in the first year alone, Walters brought in 1992 sales topping $80,000. He began hiring employees to work on site so he could focus on his marketing efforts.

Today, his technicians drive to client dealerships once or twice every week. "We sit down in each car with a laptop and list all the equipment and anything special about the vehicle," says Walters, 35. Stickers are then printed and affixed on the spot.

Dealer Specialties' latest innovation? Digital color photos of vehicles for marketing on the Web. "The evolution of the Internet has really driven our business over the past couple of years," says Walters.

Today, Walters' franchise boasts a staff of 18 and a full-time CPA to help him maintain more than 200 accounts in four states. His 1998 sales hit $700,000, and he's poised for sales of $1 million this year.

Dealer Specialties has franchises in 48 states and is seeking new franchisees nationwide. Start-up costs are $25,000.

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