By Rick Sobey
PEPPERELL -- Mirroring a national trend of larger car dealerships taking the inventory from smaller ones nearby, Pepperell's Conway Chevrolet Buick at 23 Hollis St. was partially purchased by a Nashua, N.H. dealership on March 15.
MacMulkin Chevrolet Cadillac in Nashua bought the new-car Conway operation two weeks ago, ending Conway's 33-year association with General Motors. Conway Service & Sales Center will no longer sell new cars, but the Pepperell dealership will continue selling used cars, as well as servicing vehicles.
"We've had a long and enjoyable relationship with GM, their representatives and the staff at GMAC financial," according to a written statement from owner Dick Conway. "However, the trend nationally is toward larger dealerships and fewer of them. The dealer costs related are substantial and we feel now is the time to accept the trend and move forward.
"The good news is that the new Conway Service and Sales Center will continue to service GM vehicles as well as other makes and models," his statement continues. "Our experienced sales staff will offer a fine selection of select, pre-owned vehicles at competitive prices and finance rates.
"We have strived over the past 33 years to provide a business friendly environment for our customers where they could rely on dependable vehicles, quality service and fair prices. The new Conway Service and Sales Center will continue to do just that.
The Nashua dealership is moving the Pepperell new-car operation to New Hampshire, adding "Pepperell to our area of responsibility and taking care of customers from that region," according to MacMulkin co-owner Jeffrey Thompson.
"It's great for us to be able to expand, and it's only a few minutes away for customers in the area," Thompson said. "It's a win-win for everyone - we get to expand, the Conways are able to get out of the new car business, and it's a win for the customer.
Thompson said the transaction price would be kept confidential.
This consolidation comes as General Motors has realigned dealerships over the past few years, according to Thompson.
"It's instead of having dealers so close, like any business with one on every corner," Thompson said. "So GM asked us if we were interested in purchasing it, and we were excited for the opportunity."
Richard Gervais, owner of Gervais Kia at 6 Industrial Ave. in Lowell, said that absorbing another dealer's territory is a common occurrence. His dealership absorbed a Lincoln dealer in Methuan, and it's been "very positive" for the Lowell dealership, he said.
"The impact is taking away a competitor, so you do see an increase in the customer base," Gervais said. "It depends on the market, but it seems to happen all the time."
While Jim D'Antuono, general manager of Greater Lowell Buick-GMC, admits that it's harder and harder for the "ma and pa dealerships" to survive in this economy, he said there's still an opportunity for smaller dealers if they run properly and there's a spot for them in the market.
"Bigger car organizations are certainly taking over, but a husband and wife business like us can still make it," D'Antuono said. "We survive because of the word of mouth and referrals. When we sell a car, it becomes a relationship that we try to build on."
Thompson, of the Nashua dealership, said that some of the Conway employees planned to retire, but he welcomed them to visit the Nashua dealership and "entertain the thought of us."
MacMulkin Chevrolet Cadillac, located at 3 Marmon Drive in Nashua, has been a family-owned business since 1958. The dealership sells new and used vehicles, and it offers seven days a week service with a full service and parts department.
The dealership has 600 Chevrolets and 100 Cadillacs available, according to Thompson. He said that Corvettes are a hot item at the store, selling more than 250 Corvettes a year.
The showroom consists of 40,000 square feet, three stories and 100 vehicles.