Jun 01, 2013
By Louis Llovio
About two years ago, Brian Schrimpsher, who first got into the car business in 1994, reached a turning point in his career. A familiar face from his local TV ads, he was co-owner of two Nissan dealerships in Richmond.
But then his partner, Victory Automotive Group, decided to sell the Nissan stores to buy Honda franchises in California and one in Tampa.
"After the sale, I thought about buying my own franchise but there was not much available in the Richmond market," he said. "Plus, my wife and son didn't really want to move."
So Schrimpsher did the next best thing: He opened a used car lot and called it Va Cars Inc.
He decided to leverage his experience as a new car dealer to create a new model for operating a used car store. His first challenge to overcome was the razor-thin profit margin that new car franchises assigned to used cars. The second, much bigger issue to overcome was the way used car dealers approached their businesses.
Luckily, Schrimpsher said almost 20 years of working in and running a franchise helped him overcome both challenges to build a successful business.
First, to increase his profit margin, Schrimpsher said he adjusted how repairs are billed internally.
"For example, Dealer X trades in a 7-year-old car that needs reconditioning to put on their lot," he said. "They charge an average of $120 per hour, plus mark up the parts anywhere from 125-150 percent. I don't [do that]. We bill labor and parts [internally] at cost."
By doing it this way, a $1,200 repair at his dealership actually costs $500 to $600, enabling Va Cars to price the car cheaper and improve their profit margin, Schrimpsher said.
Another difference is his approach to providing excellent customer service.
While decent customer service and treating shoppers well is a no-brainer for anyone in retail, Schrimpsher said he actively tracks customers down to solicit feedback.
Every shopper who buys a vehicle from Va Cars is sent a survey 14 to 30 days after the purchase. The surveys help the store track how its customers feel about their buying experience and make any necessary adjustments.
To ensure customers are happy, each vehicle is put through a 50-point inspection, and cars with fewer than 100,000 miles automatically get a 90-day or 3,000-mile warranty.
Selling a reliable car is a priority, but so is obtaining financing for his customers.
"The biggest challenge in operating a used car store versus a new car store is two things: bankers and lenders," he said.
"Most lenders want the dealer to be open five to10 years before they will give them a chance. I was very fortunate in that I had worked with all of these lenders for so long and they know how I do business, so they did not hesitate to sign us."
Va Cars now works with 22 lenders.
So far, applying the franchise model has paid dividends. The company has grown into two stores since 2011. Schrimpsher said he'd like to open a third store next year.
"Franchise dealers do have some advantage over independents," Schrimpsher said. "They have many trades coming in daily on their new cars, and they have a constant traffic flow with the big service departments in the back. The downfall is they have 50 to 70 employees to pay to get this done and they have large stores that cost millions to build and millions to keep going every year."
Schrimpsher has this advice for all small business owners: Focus on people, product and pricing:
People: Find the best people you can, and work side by side with them.
Product: Make sure what you are selling you would buy for yourself.
Pricing: Keep your overhead low enough where you can be in the top 10 percent of the market.
May 20, 2014
BY LOUIS LLOVIO
When one of the biggest Kroger grocery stores on the East Coast opened in December 2012, it was seen as the first big step in a planned renaissance of Midlothian Turnpike east of the Powhite Parkway.
Seventeen months after the store opened, little outside the immediate area around the store has changed.
But the snail's pace of redevelopment along the corridor is not unexpected and changes are coming ? eventually.
"There's no secret bullet as to how long it takes, but it takes a while," said Brian Glass, a senior vice president with Colliers International, a commercial real estate firm.
The 4.3-mile Midlothian Turnpike corridor between the Powhite Parkway in Chesterfield County and Belt Boulevard in Richmond is in the midst of a transformation geared toward re-establishing it as a top commercial area after years of decline.
The revitalization is largely centered around the site of the former Cloverleaf Mall just west of Chippenham Parkway, now called Stonebridge, a 83-acre multiuse development where the Kroger is located.
In the months since the grocery opened, the center has attracted an influx of retailers new to that part of Chesterfield, including Qdoba Mexican Grill, Sweet Frog and a Krispy Kreme that has become a destination for doughnut lovers.
Also in the center, a 600-unit apartment complex is under construction.
Across the street from Stonebridge, Spring Rock Green is capitalizing on the renewed attention on the area. Panera Bread opened a restaurant there last year, and Chipotle Mexican Grill and Starbucks have shops being built.
Next to Stonebridge at Chippenham Square, Waffle House is scheduled to begin construction on a restaurant this summer.
"That, in my opinion, is real progress, and I believe more will follow," Glass said.
But outside of the immediate area around Stonebridge, the revitalization has not yet kicked into full gear, with much of Midlothian Turnpike looking much as it did on Dec. 5, 2012. Business owners, though, understand the sometimes slow pace of progress and have seen some benefits.
Brian Schrimpsher, owner of the used-car dealership VA Cars, moved to the area in part because of the projected revitalization.
Schrimpsher bought his building at 7729 Midlothian Turnpike in Chesterfield in September 2012 because he saw what was coming a mile down the road.
"When I purchased this building, I knew that the new development down the street would help bring in some people to the area that may not have been here in decades," he said. "And now I see that I was correct."
Schrimpsher said inventory and sales have steadily increased since the dealership opened, a trend he sees continuing, especially as other business owners look to take advantage of the changes in the corridor's complexion.
"I am happy to see that many business owners are really trying to clean up and do some remodeling to their places of business here in the local area," he said.
To help bring the area back, the county designated the corridor as an enterprise zone to lure developers and retailers with incentives in the form of tax credits and the waiving of some fees.
That approach is designed to bring in popular businesses and bring back the shoppers who have wandered to other commercial corridors such as Hull Street Road and Midlothian farther west.
"To restore confidence with the shoppers, you have to demonstrate commitment in terms of the type of stores and services offered, future opportunities and overall county support," said Will Davis, Chesterfield's director of economic development.
"In this case, revitalization almost started from scratch. We have gone from a dead mall to a vibrant retail setting that is turning into a destination."
Davis said that since December 2011, his office has seen 52 applications for tax credits in the Midlothian corridor, totaling a projected investment of more than $17 million and 261 new jobs.
Redeveloping a large commercial corridor with hundreds of businesses is equal parts science and art, though.
The Richmond side of Midlothian Turnpike has not seen the kind of boost seen on the Chesterfield side, said Mark A. Olinger, director of the department of Planning & Development Review for the city.
Olinger said the city has different issues from the county because of the presence of several large tracts of land taken up by big operations, including Evergreen Enterprises, a global company that designs, manufactures and distributes home décor products and accessories.
Even with the big companies, the Richmond side of Midlothian consists mostly of motels, used-car lots, mechanic shops, gas stations and fast-food restaurants.
The city completed a major beautification project along Midlothian east of Chippenham about 18 months ago, improving the medians and resurfacing the highway, among other enhancements.
Olinger said the city has put a priority on improving the Midlothian corridor and will look at how it wants to address future growth in its master plan and decide what's best for area residents as well as the businesses.
"The question is, what's it going to morph into?" Olinger said.
Mr. Brian Schrimpsher from VA Cars, pictured here with son, Tyler, during a visiting to Mrs. Manheim's Marketing class.
Submitted by: Mrs. Carolyn Manheim
Mr. Brian Schrimpsher from VA Cars on Midlothian Turnpike spoke to Mrs. Manheim's 2O Principles of Business and Marketing class about the challenges and rewards of being an entrepreneur. Mr. Schrimpsher began selling cars in high school and now has a used car business on Midlothian Turnpike.