Dealer's Nissans sold to CarMax

White Marsh outlet takes over franchise from Town & Country

June 19, 1999|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Richard Sammis has been selling Nissans at his Town & Country dealership in Perry Hall since 1975, so handing over the keys to CarMax came with plenty of trepidation.

"It wasn't an easy decision to make, financially and emotionally. But financially won over emotionally," Sammis said yesterday. "It was an offer we just couldn't turn down. It was a good business decision."

Sammis, who co-owns the dealership with Leonard Berger, will still sell new Pontiacs and Suzukis and used Nissans, but CarMax came and took away their 94 new Nissans on Thursday. The franchise purchase price was not disclosed.

CarMax, a subsidiary of Circuit City Stores Inc. based in Richmond, Va., will sell the Nissans at its superstore in White Marsh, which opened in November and until yesterday sold only used cars.

"We will add new-car franchises to our used-car locations wherever it is feasible," said CarMax spokesman Val Brown. "Our core business is used cars, but consumers have shown they like to buy new cars in the same way -- low, no-haggle prices."

CarMax has three other Maryland locations: a used-car superstore in Rockville, and two Laurel locations. One store in Laurel sells new Toyotas; the other, a used-car superstore that also sells new Mitsubishis, is CarMax's largest retail location in the country.

Brown said the only way CarMax could get into the Nissan retail business in White Marsh was to buy an existing franchise contract because the area was not open to new franchise agreements.

"Every market has a dealer point. Town & Country is a point, a location within a market where you can sell cars," he said.

Carmax, which began selling cars in 1993 in Virginia, has yet to post a profit. For its 1999 fiscal year, which ended in February, it had a net loss of $23.5 million on sales of $1.47 billion.

"The success we have enjoyed since opening the White Marsh location clearly indicates that consumers like the quality and depth of our selection," said W. Austin Ligon, president of CarMax. "We are delighted to expand this consumer offer with the addition of new Nissan vehicles."

Sammis said he has no fears that he's feeding a beast that might some day swallow his business.

"One thing we have that they don't is that on used cars at CarMax there's no negotiations, and a lot of people still like the negotiating end," he said. Besides, "in 10 years, I'll be floating around in Florida."

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