Gahanna Auto Sales relies on loyal customers
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series on iconic Gahanna businesses to be featured each month.
The promise of quality service and customer satisfaction is what drives Gahanna Auto Sales, 180 Mill St., which has been in the family for 30 years.
“We’re dedicated to helping you find a vehicle that fits your lifestyle from our wide selection of certified and pre-owned cars, trucks and SUVs from top brands like Ford, Chevrolet, Honda and more,” says the company website: gahannaautosales.com. âWe pride ourselves on creating a hassle-free car buying experience where your needs come first. “
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Owner Craig Leitwein, 46, said his father, Steve Leitwein, tried his luck by buying the business in 1991 from the Smith brothers.
âSomewhere in the 1940s it was Gahanna Chevrolet,â said Leitwein. âThey called it Gahanna Auto Sales and Chevrolet. And Quality Chevrolet came and bought this. This is where they got their franchise. … and they sold it to the Smith brothers. The Smith brothers had it for about 20 years and sold it to my father in 1991. “
Leitwein said his father was brought into the automotive business in the 1980s by his uncle, Roger Leitwein, as a part-time weekend job.
âHe was more of the car guy, originally,â he said. âMy dad made more money on Saturdays and Sundays than at his full-time job. Roger worked for a large franchise group.
Leitwein said his father, who had always been in sales, started working full-time in the auto industry, selling conversion vans.
âFrom there this (business) went up for sale and he took a chance,â he said.
Leitwein said his father wanted to do things differently, taking the high pressure off and just taking care of the client.
He said he and chief executive Kyle Ballinger have pursued this philosophy since his father retired about four and a half years ago.
âWe’re just doing it on a little bigger scale,â he said. âAnd it really paid off. Our opinions reflect this. We are really proud of the 5 star rating on Google. “
âWhen people say the sellers in this dealership aren’t pushing you to buy, they are for real,â Adnan Toric said in a recent Google review.
âThroughout the process, Kyle was helpful, cooperative and never pushed me to buy a car,â he wrote. âWhen unexpected problems arose, he did his best to help me. It’s a really nice little dealership that isn’t about getting people to buy cars. They let me take the car I bought for a few hours to have it inspected without a problem. If you can do business with this dealership, you will appreciate it a lot more than going to a bigger company that focuses on volume sales.
Another reviewer from Chuck Ray said, âI would highly recommend buying a vehicle from these guys. It was the easiest process I have ever experienced to buy a car. Professional, honest and courteous.
Ballinger, who has been with the company since graduating from Gahanna Lincoln High School in 2005, said he started under the ownership of Steve Leitwein.
âI love the automotive industry,â he said. âThe last two years have been ups and downs so it’s been a little different. They treat me like family so it’s a great place to work.
Ballinger, 34, said he sees a lot of clients he went to school with, as well as their parents.
âOur biggest business remains loyal customers,â he said. âAs small as we are, it’s amazing. I’m starting to see the fourth generation coming. It’s quite interesting.
Leitwein said he started working at his father’s car wash business when he was a high school student at Columbus public schools.
âI started from the bottom and progressed,â he said. âNo one really grows up thinking they are going to be a used car salesperson. “
Leitwein said this year was not like any other because demand for cars exceeds supply.
âUnfortunately, with the shortage of cars, I am now traveling to find vehicles to fill the lot,â he said. âWe’ve never seen a market like this. It’s not that fun for me to buy new cars. I have to travel out of state – Pennsylvania, West Virginia – and I participated in the auction here. So now I spend five times more time in auctions than I did here at the time. “
He said the dealership specializes in low mileage cars that are typically no older than 4 years old.
âThis is what everyone had to go to when they couldn’t get a new one, which is our specialty – basically carrying 4 years (alumni) or more,â he said. âWe used to have a lot of cars with 5,000 miles, 10,000 miles, 20,000 miles. â¦ These cars are mounted; depending on a truck or car, the percentage range was 20% to 30%. Your one-year-old pickup truck grew from $ 10,000 to $ 12,000 in a matter of months. It was not progressive; it just hit us.
He said the car rental companies had arrived around March and started buying any low-mileage used cars they could get their hands on.
âWe were bidding against – not a retail market but their rental market – which is not the same. Most of us thought the shortage would be over, âsaid Leitwein.
He said he heard about the supply problem last November or December.
âIf you had been here in February, we had almost 100 cars on this lot,â he said. âYou couldn’t pull our spell from the back, and you could barely get in from the front. I knew this was just talking to all the franchise dealers. We didn’t think it would last that long. We thought for sure that by this time this year there would be 80-90% production. “
He said the market went crazy in March, April and May.
âEvery time we retailed a car we were losing money because we could have wholesale it to a dealership for more,â he said. âAnd no matter how fast we increased our prices, we couldn’t keep up. So we started to wholesale our cars and drove 80 cars one month and 75 the following month. It was a lot of paperwork. It was very profitable during those few months. Now what we have to pay for the cars, there is nothing left. Some cars are at a loss for the dealership just so they can hopefully get a trade-in and make some money in the back. You can literally buy a car for the same price on a dealership’s lot that it is currently bringing in at auto auctions. And it’s already repackaged.
But you have to have an inventory, said Leitwein.
âWe’ve never seen a market like this,â he said. âThis will eventually correct itself. This year has been crazy, absolutely crazy.
Leitwein said he would buy pretty much any exchange from customers.
âWe had to become very diverse,â he said. âWe had campers side by side; we sold golf carts, we sold our pop machine this year. Our two vending machines are gone. People were spending money like it was water. It doesn’t matter what I bought.
He said the dealer’s internet sales are 25-30% with the rest being loyal customers.
âYou have to really take care of the customer after you buy an item, especially of this magnitude,â he said. âYou have to keep them happy. Most of our referrals are here in Gahanna. It’s huge.”
The business is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday; Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is closed on Sunday.