This New Orleans automobile supplier constructed a $1B enterprise in six years, ruffling feathers alongside the best way | Enterprise Information


It ought to have been a reasonably uninteresting enterprise arbitration between two New Orleans-area automobile sellers.

Late final summer season, Ronnie Lamarque, the colourful native Ford supplier and part-time crooner, was upset {that a} rival Ford supplier, Matt Bowers, was trying to relocate simply over 5 miles away from his Williams Boulevard advanced in Kenner.

Gathered at a listening to within the Metairie workplaces of the Louisiana Motor Automobile Fee have been Lamarque and Bowers, with their respective legal professionals, together with a number of officers and Ford representatives. When it got here time for Lamarque to talk, he made his case a cappella.

“I used to be born by the river/in a city referred to as Arabi,” he warbled to the melody of Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem ‘A Change is Gonna Come’. “It has been an extended, very long time coming/however I do know that Ford ain’t gonna bully me.”

His impromptu lyrics additionally made point out of “Ford’s new fair-haired boy,” a reference to Bowers, as Lamarque argued the proposed dealership was too near his personal.

Ronnie Lamarque competes on 'America's Got Talent' Tuesday

Ronnie Lamarque, pictured in Nov. 2017 at his for-one-night-only Dwell at The Jefferson Performing Arts Middle efficiency.

“I assumed the tune was an incredible hit,” mentioned Lamarque, 75, who appeared on “America’s Received Expertise” in 2018.

Bowers thought in any other case. “It was insane,” he mentioned, inserting an expletive for emphasis.

The dispute was made moot when Bowers’ potential new location fell by means of. However the episode was emblematic of a generational shift within the native automobile enterprise. Bowers, 46, has ruffled just a few feathers over the previous six years as he rapidly assembled a 10-dealer community that hit $1 billion in gross sales in 2021.

Automotive dealerships have resulted in a number of the extra conspicuous enterprise fortunes in South Louisiana through the years, with names made acquainted by billboards and tv spots: Lamarque, Troy Duhon, Ray Brandt, the Bohn household — who received began 4 generations in the past, within the Twenties — and naturally the late Saints proprietor Tom Benson.

Bowers is now trying to enter the membership however with a special model for the social media period.

The Veterans Blvd. relocation was a missed alternative. He had a deal in place to maneuver throughout the road and lease out the present web site to a house enchancment chain for $1.3 million a yr.

However he rapidly moved on to new offers, which included shopping for Allen Hyundai in Gulfport, Mississippi, his ninth dealership since he began Matt Bowers Automotive in 2016. He is simply closed on a tenth — the fourth within the New Orleans space — which is awaiting remaining clearance from the carmaker.

Stephen Walenczak, the Dallas-based supervisor of Louisiana’s GM supplier community, which incorporates Bowers’ two New Orleans space Chevrolet dealerships, mentioned few automobile sellers have been capable of develop as quick within the enterprise, which requires appreciable upfront capital in addition to connections.

“It is undoubtedly fairly uncommon that one thing like that occurs,” mentioned Walenczak. “New Orleans and the encircling space is a singular market. Having somebody native from town is large, it goes a great distance, and undoubtedly helped Matt.”

Bowers grew up in Mid-Metropolis however spent most of his profession out of state. He first got here onto the radar of many New Orleanians three years in the past when he paid $20,000 for 2 weeks price of billboards decrying the notorious “no name” that saved the Saints from advancing previous the Rams to the Tremendous Bowl in Atlanta.

The story of how a Saints fan got those billboards up in Atlanta

A billboard displayed in Atlanta reads “Saints received robbed” after the New Orleans Saints’ NFC championship loss to the Los Angeles Rams. (Photograph offered by Matt Bowers)

The “SAINTS GOT ROBBED” and “NFL BLEAUX IT!” indicators on Atlanta-area highways went viral and have been featured on all the most important nationwide tv information channels in addition to in publications starting from The New York Occasions to Southern Residing Journal.

“There’s no sum of money you could possibly have paid to have that type of publicity,” mentioned Bowers.

The notoriety lived on in social media, for instance when he put up a $25,000 reward for a gang of tire thieves that hit his Slidell Chevrolet dealership. When cops caught the culprits, Bowers was invited to affix their picture op due to the position performed by his giant social media following.

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His charitable efforts get a lift from his affiliation with Saints gamers, notably star working again Alvin Kamara, with whom Bowers additionally has partnered in a few of his actual property offers, equivalent to Bienville Villas, a condominium improvement in Mid-Metropolis.

Bowers received began in automobiles within the late Nineties, when he took a job at Benson’s Nissan dealership in New Orleans as a substitute of going to regulation faculty.

Rick Zibilich, who employed Bowers a yr later as a finance supervisor, mentioned Bowers was a younger man in a rush. “I feel he has all the time had visions of being actually large,” he mentioned, noting that Bowers rapidly turned a $500,000 loss right into a $2 million revenue at a Gulfport Nissan he was requested to run by Houston-based Group 1 after they’d purchased the Bohn Auto group.

“He was then capable of persuade individuals to throw their cash on the desk, which is critical as a result of it is a very capital intensive enterprise,” mentioned Zibilich.

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An extended street to his first dealership was nonetheless forward. Capital is one large hurdle: the common price of a brand new dealership is $11 million, with one other $4 million of annual working prices wanted, in line with the Nationwide Affiliation of Car Sellers.

The tightly-controlled household supplier teams have began to provide manner considerably to consolidators like AutoNation, Group 1, and Lithia Motors, every of which have constructed networks of lots of of dealerships.

Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of the 17,000 or so automobile dealerships within the U.S. are a part of teams which are fewer than 10 retailers.

Bowers’ break adopted a stint in Nashville working for auto dealmaker Terry Taylor, when he partnered with Franklin McLarty, a fourth-generation dealership proprietor and the son of Mack McLarty, a White Home Chief of Workers below President Invoice Clinton. When a Chevrolet dealership in Slidell got here up on the market, it did not match with McLarty’s plans however he recommended Bowers go it alone.

Bowers was then off to the races, utilizing longstanding banking relationships to accumulate new franchises, together with one other Chevrolet dealership on Airline Drive in Metairie, the Ford on Veterans and others out of state.

He adopted a method of sniffing out dealerships that may very well be affected by the “third era curse,” the place a household proprietor has misplaced curiosity, or for a latest possession change, like a widowed second spouse, who is perhaps desirous to promote.


A Matt Bowers billboard on Causeway Blvd. in Metairie on Friday, January 14, 2022. (Photograph by Chris Granger | The Occasions-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

However within the technique of rising, a few of Bowers’ media ways have rubbed his fellow automobile sellers the improper manner and put him on the radar of regulators.

This month, Bowers was fined just below $27,000 by state regulators. It stemmed from a media marketing campaign he ran in 2020 to promote $10 million price of Chevrolet Tahoes, Suburbans, and GMC Yukons that he had acquired from Hertz and Avis rental franchises once they have been struggling badly early within the pandemic.

The regulator discovered that Bowers’ promoting blitz on Fb, YouTube and different media providing “distressed sale” autos at “dimes on the greenback” had damaged guidelines about what sellers can say about financial savings on used autos and the way a lot stock they personal.

Based on state paperwork, the complaints that triggered the investigation have been made by three different space automobile sellers, together with a present LMVC commissioner.

Bowers, who embraces his picture as a brash go-getter, says there was sure to be blowback for anybody elbowing their manner into the automobile enterprise.

“Look, I get it. I am the man who has his initials on the again of his Gulfstream, not everyone goes to love me,” he mentioned, referring to his personal jet.

Lamarque, who mentioned he bears no grudge towards Bowers, famous that at one level he additionally was a dealmaker. He had accrued 18 franchises within the metro space by 2003. However he mentioned it had turn into “like a runaway practice” that had taken him too removed from his roots.

“I am extra of a automobile man,” he says, happier with a scaled again operation centered on his Ford, Lincoln and Mercedes dealerships, which he hopes to move to his 24-year-old son, Ronnie Michael. “They have to see it, odor it, and drive that child house!”

Bowers is headed the opposite manner. “Early on, I learn a biography of Tom Benson and what it took him to succeed,” he mentioned. “I’ve already determined this: I will go so far as I can go till one thing or anyone stops me.”

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