By Alysha Webb, Editor and Publisher
Ivette Dominguez had just graduated from San Diego State University when she took her car in for service and noticed a help-wanted sign. She applied, thinking it would be an interesting “summer” job while working on her long-term career plan.
“That summer job turned into my career,” says Dominguez.
Dominguez is owner and president of Alpine Buick GMC in Denver, which she operates with her husband, Mike Drawe. This spring, a little over ten years after buying Alpine, they became co-owners of their second dealership, Cardinal Buick GMC in Belleville, Ill. They would like to continue to expand, but only under the right conditions.
“There has to potential for a good return on investment (and) we look at what it does to our work-life balance,” Dominguez tells Automotive Buy Sell Report.
To acquire the Illinois dealership, Dominguez and Drawe partnered with long-time friend and former employee Rick Jones. Jones is the operating partner. The dealership officially began doing business under its new name on March 20. Dominguez and her husband get a daily operating report and will visit the store every six weeks, she says.
She and her husband had been looking to grow when Jones approached them with the Illinois deal, says Dominguez. They had looked at a Toyota store in Arizona but the owner wasn’t flexible with pricing and the deal didn’t come together, she says.
They had some other deals on the table, but Cardinal GMC Buick “felt like a good return on investment,” says Dominguez. “The market factors were good, and it was an underperforming store.”
Helping women succeed
Dominguez counts herself lucky that her first dealership job was at a store with a small staff and “good people around I could learn from.” That was the early nineties and there was not a lot of training at dealerships back then, she says.
She worked at various jobs at the BMW dealership before joining Don Massey Cadillac in Michigan. It was acquired by Sonic Automotive Inc. in 2002. Dominguez worked as a dealership general manager for Sonic from 2002 to 2005.
It was at Don Massey that she met her husband, Mike.
As managers of multiple dealerships, their lives where hectic. They were in their mid-thirties, had a three-year-old daughter, and Drawe was running three stores while Dominguez ran one.
They wanted to acquire their own store, but accumulating enough capital was tough. Then, in 2005, Sonic decided to sell the Buick GMC dealership in Denver.
“They said they would be happy to hand-carry (the deal) to GM,” says Dominguez.
Sonic held up their end of the bargain and the couple bought Alpine in September 2005.
It was a tough time, says Dominguez. Interest rates were high and gas prices were skyrocketing. Dominguez, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, considered financing the purchase through GM’s minority program.
Though Dominguez is now co-chair of the GM Minority Dealer Advisory Council, at the time they funded the sale the way a lot of entrepreneurs do.
“We used all our savings, mortgaged our home, and took out a loan,” says Dominguez. “We really didn’t have a lot of room for failure,”
They didn’t fail. Indeed, Alpine Buick GMC is the number one Buick and GMC store in Colorado in terms of sales volume, and has been since 2015. They were Colorado Buick Dealer of the Year in 2012, 2013, and 2014. It is the fifth largest minority-owned business in Colorado.
The dealership’s location is “challenged,” says Dominguez, but digital marketing, community outreach and catering to the growing Hispanic community has helped overcome that.
Their guiding philosophy is “really about people and community,” says Dominguez. They rely on the personal touch to maintain their customers’ loyalty, and are very active in the community.
They make a special effort to stand out in the Hispanic community and about half of their business is Hispanic, she says. The dealership employs Spanish-speaking employees in every department, and Dominguez is active with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for Metro Denver.
As a woman in an industry that is still dominated by men, Dominguez works to help other women excel. The staff is approximately 50 percent female, says Dominguez, and many are in leadership roles.
“We are committed to mentoring, whether leading by example or showing there is a path to success,” she says.
In the community, Dominguez is a director for three children’s causes and has raised millions of dollars for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
At her dealership, Dominguez aims to give all her employees the tools to succeed. This year, they signed on with consultancy NCM Associates of Kansas City, Mo. for a 12-month training program that allows the dealership to send employees for three- to five-day training courses.
It is worth the cost, says Dominguez.
“All the employees come back very enthusiastic,” she says. “We try to invest in our people.”