NEWS- Dealers agree: They welcome the arrival of CarMax

When CarMax announced plans to open a store on Pantops three years ago, the news took some area dealers by surprise.

"CarMax? Oh, gravy!" exclaimed one used car dealer's receptionist when she learned from a reporter that big name competition was coming. But with the December 8 grand opening of CarMax just a week away, some area dealerships now say they believe the no-haggle newcomer will lift everyone's business.

"I wish they'd been here sooner," says Chip Fadeley, owner of Free Bridge Auto. "I love competition. The more competition, the more traffic; the more traffic the more business." 

Fadeley says "auto parks" where five or six dealers cluster in one location bolster the sales. And he points out that he won't be going head to head with CarMax because while CarMax trades mostly in almost-new to three-year-old models, Free Bridge– whose ads promise "Everybody rides!"– carries mostly five- and six-year-old cars for buyers who may not have the credit to qualify for traditional car loans.

Fadeley isn't the only competitor claiming to be happy to see the CarMax open. 

"I welcome it," says Michael Gage, owner of Suzuki of Charlottesville, a new and used car dealership down the hill from CarMax at the corner of routes 250 and 20 on Pantops. "CarMax has a much larger draw than any other individual dealership," says Gage. "I think they'll attract some people to the area we wouldn't normally see."

Even a dealership currently embroiled in a name dispute with CarMax sees reason for optimism. "I think it's good for everybody," says Mike Phillips, manager of Dennis Enterprises, which dubs itself The Auto Superstore. As detailed in a November 23 Hook story, CarMax– which trademarked the name "CarMax: The Auto Superstore" in 1994– sent the other Auto Superstore a letter two years complaining about the name. In response, the Auto Superstore has filed for its own trademarks under the name "Dennis Auto Superstore" and "The Original Auto Superstore." 

Dennis Enterprises attorney Fran Lawrence says his clients want the right to continue using the name they've used since 1997; CarMax spokesperson Lee says her company plans to protect its identity, though no lawsuits have yet been filed. 

No matter the outcome of the name dispute, Phillips says The Auto Superstore has nothing to fear from CarMax. "Our inventory is twice what they'll have," says Phillips, who says his company has 350 cars on the lot.

Indeed, the Charlottesville CarMax, with just 160 vehicles, will be the smallest CarMax in the country and will serve as a sort of corporate experiment to see how CarMax does in a smaller market. Lee, however, points out that while the actual local CarMax stock will be smaller than usual, customers can also choose from the stock of cars at any other CarMax in the country and can pick a vehicle from either of Richmond's two CarMax locations– Short Pump and Midlothian Turnpike– without a transportation charge.

Phillips agrees that people will be drawn to Pantops by CarMax's reputation, but he believes CarMax's "no haggle" operation might send customers his way.

"We think no haggle is negative," says Phillips, who believes if a used car business won't negotiate on price, it risks losing customers. "You'd better take care of the guy who's standing in front of you," he says, "because you can't replace him here as easily as you can in a metropolitan area."

If the CarMax effect will be most visible on Pantops, car businesses on Route 29 will also watch carefully. But Rosetta Dickerson, co-owner of Dan's Automart, an airport-area used car shop on 29 North, says she doesn't think the arrival of CarMax will make much of a dent in the local used car market.

"They've always been somewhat of a player in this area because Richmond's so close," says Dickerson. "People that wanted to go to CarMax just went down to Richmond. It wasn't that big a deal."

Area dealerships welcome their new neighbor.