Former new-car dealer starts over at 74

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.

Buddy Ouzts

Buddy Ouzts

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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9 comments Add your comment

Morrus

June 8th, 2010
8:54 am

Curiously, in a supposed anti-incumbent year, most of the departing are not retiring but seeking higher office. We may recycle more than we replace. The bad news is that a frustrating 114 seats still have but one contestant. Two of them aren’t even incumbents, meaning they will affect state policy without being vetted by voters. And I have to think that we’d be better off if many had run instead for the Legislature — and cut down on the number running unopposed. Georgia’s problems are numerous. They aren’t going away. There’s too much stale thinking at the Capitol, on both sides of the aisle. New voices would be welcome.

Road Scholar

June 8th, 2010
9:50 am

Morrus: the same comment on EVERY blog is getting old.

Road Scholar

June 8th, 2010
9:50 am

Morrus: PS. Yeah, let’s elect mindless, unqualified people over an incumbent who is effective!

downtowner

June 8th, 2010
10:21 am

I’ve noticed “Morrus” too, cut-and-pasting his immortal lines into every blog no matter what the subject. Must be unemployed to be able to do this for EVERY one; must be a Tea Party guy to judge from the content of his message.

Here: is Morrus suggesting that Ouzts should be running for the state legislature?

CJJScout

June 8th, 2010
10:44 am

Inspiring story.

Jack

June 8th, 2010
11:20 am

I understand where Ouzts is coming from and doubt that any of the other posters do. I’m 78 and still run a business: If I stopped, I’d go crazy or worse. And also, there’d be less taxes paid in to support welfare recipients.

concerned

June 8th, 2010
9:23 pm

Don’t you just love how as soon as their is a disaster somewhere else in the world that all the celebrities come running with phon-a-thons, and benefit concerts, but as soon as we have a tragedy that effects our own country they all stay silent??? Maybe there would be more jobs, less homeless, and less crime if our “celebrities” would spend more time worrying about our own problems.

TnGelding

June 8th, 2010
11:22 pm

Well, he’s hardly starting over. It’s great that he still has the energy and enthusiasm to continue the rat race. I’m sure his employees think the world of him. Good luck and best wishes.

Cars

September 12th, 2010
9:42 am

Poor quality GM cars made by overpaid UAW workers caused the auto industry’s problems. Very simple, but they never got it until they had to beg taxpayers for $60 billion in bailout cash.