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Asbury encompassing more of the Jackson market

JACKSON — It might seem unlikely that a department store guru would opt for selling cars, but in the case of Jackson native Brian Kendrick, that is exactly what happened.

Kendrick, the former chief operating officer for Saks Holdings Inc., the holding company of the Saks Fifth Avenue luxury retail chain, joined Asbury Automotive in 1999 as president and chief executive officer. Asbury is currently the third largest automotive retailer in the United States, operating eight regional platforms representing more than 120 franchises in 11 major metropolitan markets in nine states. The company sells, finances and services a diverse range of foreign and domestic automobile brands.

“I have a retailing bend on this business,” Kendrick said. “I want our business here today to represent a department store of automobiles. Historically it’s always been on a transaction basis. Now by us having all these franchises and consolidating around a community we can start talking to you as a customer for life.”

Kendrick said joining Asbury has proved a good fit for him.

“Every young man in America likes cars,” he said. “This is a great business, it’s one of America’s largest privately held businesses and I am having a great time. It’s a market I understand.”

Asbury Automotive Group has headquarters in Stamford, Conn., and has dealerships in Virginia, Oregon, Texas, Missouri, Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina.

“We run our business a little bit different than other consolidators,” Kendrick said. “We go into a community that has growth, a steady economy, good demand for cars and fairly limited competition, then we want to establish (the state’s) No. 1 car retailer.”

Kendrick believes he has done just that in Mississippi since Asbury’s merger with Jackson dealer Mark Escude and just two weeks ago with Gray-Daniels in Brandon and Metro Mazda-Hyundai-Suzuki-Isuzu in Jackson.

Asbury is currently looking to add more brands to the Jackson platform, but Kendrick would not say which ones.

With so many brands offered by Asbury Automotive Group in the Jackson platform, including Nissan, Toyota, Ford, Daewoo, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Hyundai, Suzuki and Isuzu, the wide range should satisfy, Kendrick said.

Although mergers have taken place with Gray-Daniels Ford and Mark Escude, nothing will change with the way their business is done.

“We want the Gray-Daniels name to remain prominent,” Kendrick said. “We’ll provide capital for additional acquisitions, but the brand is a name you’ve grown up with and trusted.”

Asbury’s Mississippi dealerships have about $370 million in sales; overall sales average $5 billion annually.

“It’s a big enough market to put a platform and aggregate the business,” Kendrick said of Mississippi.

Kendrick is always amazed with how much Jackson is growing.

“I think partly because the state’s worked so hard it has a great economic development program,” Kendrick said. “I think the outlook for Mississippi is very good. We’re happy to be a part of it and I’m happy to be able to come back.”

Bobby Gray, president of Gray-Daniels Ford and chief executive officer of Asbury’s Jackson platform, is excited about dealing with Asbury. “I’m hoping to buy more dealerships,” he said.

Gray, who began selling cars out of the old Boyce Ford location in downtown Brandon and moved to the current location of Gray-Daniels in 1993 will be working with Mark Escude, president of the Jackson platform, in building out the Jackson market. Gray-Daniels now sells approximately 600 cars per month and is the No. 1 retailer in the Memphis region out of 340 dealers.

Gray said one of the reasons he chose to join the Asbury Automotive Group is because they are employee oriented.

“You don’t want to fire a bunch of employees,” he said. “They want to better the employer-employee relationship.”

And Gray hopes that the merger will provide for better deals to customers.

“If you reduce your cost of doing business you can afford to give better deals,” Gray explained.

Asbury currently has a plan in the making to reduce healthcare costs within each dealership. The automotive group also has a 401K retirement plan.

“There’s just so much we can do, especially with as much volume as we deal with,” Gray said. “We’ll be able to continue to deal in volume and pass on bigger and better deals.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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