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Old 11-02-2004, 08:15 AM   #1
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Rivet Ewald buys Venus Ford

By Becca Mader
The Business Journal Millwaukee
October 29, 2004

Automotive group now has seven dealerships, also picks up Airstream

Ewald Automotive Group, Wauwatosa, has acquired its second Ford dealership in metropolitan Milwaukee, and has become a dealer of Airstream travel trailers.

Ewald closed the acquisition of Venus Ford, 2727 E. Layton Ave., Cudahy, on Oct. 18. The transaction included the purchase of 8.6 acres, a 52,000-square-foot building and the dealership's assets. The site had a 2004 assessed value of $3.6 million and personal property valued at about $157,000, according to city of Cudahy records.

Craig Ewald, president and chief executive officer of the family-owned and operated company, declined to disclose the price of the transaction. He said his company financed it through cash.

Ewald Automotive owns one other Ford dealership, Ewald's Hartford Ford/Lincoln/Mercury, as well as five other dealerships in southeastern Wisconsin. They are Ewald Chrysler/Kia and Ewald Chevrolet/Buick in Oconomowoc, Ewald's Mayfair Chrysler/Jeep in Wauwatosa, Ewald's Dodgeland of Wisconsin in Franklin and Ewald's Budget Cars. The company also owns Mayfair Leasing and Mayfair Rent-a-Car, both of which have headquarters in Waukesha.

Ewald said he was contacted by Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co. about acquiring the dealership and has been in discussions with the manufacturer since February. Ford Motor Co. declined to comment on details of the transaction.

The Cudahy dealership was previously owned and operated by Ed Witt. In 1998, Witt moved to San Diego to run a Lincoln-Mercury dealership. Ford purchased the franchise from Witt in 1998 and entered into a dealer development transaction with Venus Ford of Cudahy Inc. With the transaction, Ford owned a majority of stock in the business and John Sponcia, Ryan Tate and Robert Hatcher, of Venus Ford of Cudahy, planned to buy out the shares over time.

Sponcia and Tate bought out Hatcher's interest in the company in 2001 and last April, the two business partners decided to sell their shares back to Ford. Sponcia said that the partners made a decision to sell because of increased competition in the area, which did not make for a good business climate at the time. Ford declined to provide information on the franchise's financial performance.

Ewald Automotive found the Venus Ford dealership attractive because of its long-standing history and reputation in the community, Ewald said. Venus Ford opened in 1937 and became well-known throughout the years for its advertising jingle that identified the dealership by its location a half-mile east of General Mitchell International Airport on East Layton Avenue.

"Like any good business, when you are as large and diversified as we are, you try to look for opportunities for advancement and growth," Ewald said. "Venus Ford enjoys an excellent reputation and its product line is excellent. We're very proud to have acquired it."

Ewald's Venus Ford employs more than 80 people. Ewald said the company will add a car rental location on site, which is offered at its other dealership locations.

Financial backing

The biggest obstacle toward buying a dealership is factory approval, said Don Hansen, president of the Automotive Dealers Association of Mega Milwaukee, an automotive association comprising 126 new car dealers. Manufacturers such as Ford look to see if a potential dealer has enough financial backing to run the dealership, the right credentials, a high customer satisfaction index and overall good reputation, Hansen said.

"Ewald excels in all these things," he said. "It is a very professional company all the way through and they all work hard at it."

The Ford acquisition is the first auto dealership acquisition the company has made in the past five years, but the dealer's second acquisition in 2004. In August, Ewald became the official dealer of Airstream, a line of silver art deco travel trailers, in the state of Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

Ewald Automotive was approached by Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream Inc. this past summer, Ewald said, about becoming an authorized dealer. He declined to disclose the amount Ewald Automotive invested to become a part of the network. It opened its Airstream location at 6319 S. 108th St. in Franklin on the same site as its Dodgeland of Wisconsin dealership. Ewald said the company will look to open other Airstream locations throughout Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

Ewald will carry 24 vehicles in Airstream's line of travel trailers and motor coaches. The trailers sell for between $29,800 and $66,000, while the motor coaches sell for between $71,500 and $260,000.

"This allows us one other avenue for diversification in the company," he said.
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