Stafford 16-car-dealership acquisition biggest in 2022

Other large deals of the year include Wally Darwish’s April purchase of 10 franchised dealerships from Fuccillo Automotive Group and Jeff Wyler Automotive Family’s February buy of seven new-vehicle stores from Superior Automotive Group.

James Mitchell and Erin Rice of Dealership Capital Services, part of commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield, represented Brown Automotive in the deal, which they called one of the largest dealership acquisitions in the Washington, D.C., area.

They said the deal’s complicated structure in terms of real estate and dealership image and renovation projects made it a lengthy process, but ultimately it worked because the two companies fit well together. Especially, they said, since Gramm agreed to buy the whole portfolio and retain the employees.

“He already had a relationship with a lot of these guys because they all kind of grew up in the car business together here in the local D.C. area,” Mitchell said.

Gramm said he plans to continue his practice of helping managers become owners of stores.

“We completely empower our people,” Gramm said. “And my job is to help make them successful.”

Before the Brown deal closed, Safford had 10 new-car dealerships and four collision shops, all in Virginia except for a BMW store and one of the collision locations, both in Owings Mills, Md.

With the purchase of Brown Automotive, Safford acquired three Mazda locations, two Honda dealerships, two Nissan stores and two Hyundai locations, plus stores representing the Toyota, Kia, Subaru, Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge- Ram and Volkswagen brands.

The stores, which operated under the Brown’s Car Stores brand in its markets, are mostly in Virginia. The Toyota store, one of the Honda locations and the muscle and classic car store are in Glen Burnie, Md., while the others are in the northern Virginia cities of Amherst, Arlington, Alexandria, Chantilly, Fairfax, Leesburg, Manassas, Richmond and Sterling.

Safford Automotive in August sold three Maryland stores to Pohanka Automotive Group. Gramm said he initially didn’t want to sell when Pohanka reached out, but the 2.5-hour drive to reach the dealerships ultimately changed his mind.

“It was difficult for me to get to those stores, and I felt a little detached,” Gramm said. “And I just felt like they were probably better suited to handle it.”

In 2021, Brown Automotive retailed 11,770 new vehicles and 8,683 used, according to Cushman & Wakefield. Safford Automotive ranked No. 104 on Automotive News‘ most recent list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., with retail sales of 9,847 new vehicles in 2021. Safford also retailed 6,372 used vehicles last year. The new-vehicle sales of Brown and Safford added together would have ranked the combined entity in the top 50 on the list.

Gramm said he aims to keep growing the company.

He expects to close on one more acquisition before year’s end. He said he couldn’t share more yet. But whatever the next move is, it won’t be the sale of his first dealership, that Fredericksburg Dodge store.

“That store was the beginning of everything,” Gramm said. “It’s still one of our most successful stores.”


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