It wasn’t how he planned things, but Buddy Ouzts is starting over at 74.
The Chevy dealership in Winder that he or his father owned since 1939 ceased selling new cars last year as GM’s financial troubles mounted.
But instead of packing it in, Ouzts recently launched a Meineke franchise in the same location — part of special program for former new-car dealers.
“I had to find a way to continue in business and Meineke gave me a direction to go in,” said Ouzts (pronounced “oots”).
Why not just retire?
During the tough times before he stopped selling new Chevys, Ouzts borrowed on the property to keep the business afloat. So he has financial obligations from that deal and, unlike GM, could not bring himself to file for bankruptcy.
“I’m not built” that way, said Ouzts, who served as the town’s mayor for 17 years.
He is intent on keeping as many employees working as he can. And retirement does not suit his driven personality.
“I just can’t stop. I can’t sit down,” he said.
Enter Jim Evans, head of the JumpStart program launched by Driven Brands, owners of Meineke and Econo Lube. Evans is combing the country, looking for former car dealers to convert their operations into franchises of Meineke or Econo Lube or both.
“There are so many quality dealers who have become disenfranchised for no apparent reason,” Evans said.
In this seemingly “win-win” arrangement, the ex-dealers get to use their existing facilities and equipment — and the franchise fee is cut in half. Driven Brands benefits by signing up experienced car people who can hit the ground running much sooner than a new operator with no facilities, equipment or employees can.
The nuts and bolts: Ouzts and other former dealers can get into a co-branded Meineke and Econo Lube franchise for $15,000. That compares with the normal fee of $30,000. What’s more, the entire cost for former dealers with existing facilities runs about $30,000, Evans said. That compares with about $275,000 for franchisees who have to start from scratch.
Most of the former new-car dealers, including Ouzts, continue to sell used cars to beef up their income stream.
Already, about two-dozen ex-dealers from around the country have bought franchises since the program started recruiting last fall. Evans said many are second- and third-generation car dealers like Ouzts, who’s the only Georgia operator so far.
A year from now, Evans expects that a total of 60 ex-dealers will have signed up.
Although just operating for six weeks now, Ouzts said he already has noticed a significant increase in business. After he stopped selling new Chevys last year, he still continued to repair cars before becoming a franchisee.
“It’s absolutely helping,” Ouzts said. “Branding is important. … By getting Meineke we’re getting more cars in here.” He said his business did 300 oil changes in May with the franchise, compared to 262 in March without it. (April is not good for comparison because the franchise started in the middle of the month.)
Is he in it for the long haul?
“I don’t know nothing but to be busy,” Ouzts said. “The only thing that can stop me is the good Lord.”
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