How longtime ties between CEOs helped West Herr and Towne make a deal

How longtime ties between CEOs helped West Herr and Towne make a deal

Scott Bieler and Frank Downing Jr. are longtime pals and rivals.

They lead two of the biggest auto seller teams within the area – Bieler at West Herr Automotive Group, and Downing at Towne Automotive Group – and communicate extremely of one another.

They’ve labored collectively on charitable efforts and trade points. And each of them see nice worth in domestically owned dealerships serving the Buffalo market.

The long-standing connections between them assist clarify a current deal that may have shocked exterior observers: Towne promoting 4 of its dealerships to rival West Herr.

However to Bieler and Downing, the deal made good sense, for private {and professional} causes.

Downing was concerned with making what he referred to as a “strategic shift” in his enterprise, to focus on the eight franchises Towne has retained, together with two collision facilities, within the Southtowns. The 4 dealerships Towne offered are within the northern a part of Erie County.

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West Herr acquired 4 manufacturers that the seller group wasn’t already promoting within the Buffalo market: BMW, Mini, Audi and Volkswagen, together with a collision middle in Bowmansville. West Herr retained 166 staff from the Towne operations it acquired. 

Downing stated he regularly will get calls from seller teams based mostly exterior of Buffalo and personal fairness companies, asking if he needs to promote.

“I’ve by no means actually had curiosity in that, as a result of I actually imagine that native is healthier, particularly realizing Scott on how he can deal with the purchasers, deal with the workers and deal with the group,” he stated. “It’s miles higher than having a profession path for our staff in Oregon or California or Florida.”

West Herr Automotive Group CEO Scott Bieler poses for a portrait on the Towne BMW in Williamsville on Jan. 17, 2023.

Bieler referred to as Downing final Might, inquiring about whether or not Towne was concerned with promoting its BMW dealership in Clarence.

“There’s loads of historical past, so it was very snug to debate this to start with,” Bieler stated. “It wasn’t awkward. We each stated, hey, determine one thing out, perhaps there’s some sense in doing this. And if there is not, we simply spend slightly time collectively, and that is O.Ok., too.”

Downing, 59, was keen to hear. He took inventory of the truth that he’s coming into his 60s and his sons aren’t concerned within the enterprise. It was a possibility to simplify the enterprise and his life.

“It might probably’t harm to speak,” Downing stated. “That is the way it acquired began.”

Because the discussions continued, Downing determined the very best method was to promote Towne’s northern assortment of 4 shops, together with the BMW dealership. Bieler was open to that concept. Downing wasn’t concerned with promoting all of Towne’s dealerships, and Bieler wasn’t concerned with shopping for your complete enterprise, both. 

“I wished to remain proprietor and operator, and I nonetheless get to do this, retaining eight franchises in 5 buildings, 300 staff, and (these areas) generated 70% of our retail quantity final 12 months, so we’re nonetheless retaining a considerable enterprise,” Downing stated. “My imaginative and prescient is we will make that even higher. And that is what we’re pushed to do.”

For West Herr, the deal created extra choices for its clients, Bieler stated.

“We’re aware of attempting to have sufficient model selection {that a} household, in the event that they’re proud of how they’re being handled at West Herr, they will purchase all their vehicles at West Herr.”

Scott Bieler & Frank Downing

Towne BMV president Frank Downing poses for a portrait on the BMW in Williamsville on Jan. 17, 2023.

Each Downing and Bieler stated the workers of the 4 dealerships figured closely into the choice to make the deal.

“If he did not have the expertise he has in these 4 buildings, we would not have purchased it, as a result of it is an excessive amount of to tackle if you do not have the best folks below the roof,” Bieler stated. “They’re proficient, they’re good, they’re hardworking, however on prime of that, they’re simply good human beings, and have good character, and that is necessary to us.”

Downing’s cousin Dan previously labored on the BMW retailer and can now be Towne’s chief working officer, dealing with day-to-day operations. “Now we will function long run with the manufacturers we’ve, and I haven’t got to be as involved with all of the trade disruptions on the market,” he stated.

Downing was aware of the management group West Herr had in place, and felt snug together with his staff becoming a member of the group.

“What was actually necessary to me is that my group was going to be taken care of, and we talked about that extensively over months, to make it possible for occurred,” he stated.

Bieler stated West Herr has assembled leaders who can carry the seller group and its 3,000 staff into the long run.

“I’ve 16 key folks between me and the final managers all targeted on a portion of the enterprise,” he stated. The oldest of that group is just 48 years previous.

“We will go one other technology,” Bieler stated. “I do not need to promote, ever.”

Towne nonetheless goes to head-to-head with West Herr on every of the eight manufacturers Towne has retained. However Bieler and Downing say there’s nothing new about competing with one another, and their mutual respect endures.

Downing referred to as promoting the 4 dealerships “bittersweet.”

“It was the toughest enterprise resolution of my 35-plus years within the enterprise by far,” he stated. “However I do know it was the best factor for my household, my enterprise and the long run.”