O’Brien Auto Park, which consists of Subaru, Hyundai, and Mazda dealerships at 2850 Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers, sold its real estate for $26 million, plus an undisclosed amount for the business and about 1,000 vehicles on site.
All 130 employees will be retained, including general manager Brian Burton, a long-time O’Brien employee.
The Tampa-based Morgan Automotive Group, which made its first foray into the Lee County market upon buying Honda of Fort Myers in April 2018, closed on the transaction on Dec. 15.
“We plan to keep every single employee who was working there the day it closed,” said Larry Morgan, owner of Morgan Automotive Group, which owns 45 dealerships with 27 brands across Florida. “The customer relationships will stay the same. No one will know the difference. The transition has been really smooth.”
The O’Brien complex is about half a mile west of Honda of Fort Myers, which Morgan constructed from scratch, relocating the dealership from its location along U.S. 41 to 3550 Colonial Blvd. in November 2019.
“Perfectly,” Morgan said of owning four branded locations in that corridor. “That’s why we bought it. We love Fort Myers. We think it’s a great market. We do extremely well in our Honda store.”
The purchase bucked Morgan’s trend of buying rundown dealerships and rehabilitating them.
“The O’Brien stores are very well-run stores,” Morgan said. “Typically, we buy stores that aren’t doing well. We take them and turn them around and create value. As time goes on, we hope to be able to find some things that can be improved upon. We like the brands. We had two of the brands already. We did not have a Subaru, which we’re really thrilled about. We think Subaru is a great brand. It has a loyal customer base. So we’re excited about that. We have some synergies. We have some management already there in the market.”
Morgan said the O’Brien crest and insignia eventually will be dropped. The dealerships will be called Subaru of Fort Myers, Hyundai of Fort Myers and Mazda of Fort Myers. Morgan also might build a fourth building to accommodate Genesis of Fort Myers, a luxury model that competes with Mercedes and BMW and is made by Hyundai.
“That brand wants to have its own identity and own building and make it more of an upscale experience for customers on a standalone basis,” Morgan said.
The Hyundai store also could be remodeled.
For Joe O’Brien, who bought the dealerships in 1998, and Gary Matern, who became a 50% partner and general manager in 2007, the time seemed right to sell to Morgan, who approached them earlier this year.
“It was a very, very tough decision,” Matern said of selling. “I’d say it’s bittersweet. But it was time.”
O’Brien and Matern will continue owning and operating a Lexus and Toyota dealership in Peoria, Illinois. O’Brien also partners in a handful of other out-of-area dealerships. But the overtures from Morgan to sell in Fort Myers were too enticing to ignore.
“Coming into 2020 … we weren’t looking for an exit strategy at the time,” Matern said. “Mr. Morgan approached us. We entered into negotiations. The pricing was right. We decided to turn it over to him.
Independent guys like ourselves are having a harder time to compete with the economies of scale of these larger operations.”
Morgan has some 4,500 employees across the state compared to O’Brien’s 130.
“Their ability to buy insurance, negotiate with banks and negotiate with other business terms … it makes it a lot tougher to compete,” Matern said.
Matern, 62, plans to succeed in an area in which Morgan, 77, has not: retirement.
Morgan, a former owner of 630 Tires Plus stores until selling them to Bridgestone, un-retired and built his auto empire.
Matern has sold his stake in the Fort Myers dealership but not his love for the area.
“We love it here,” Matern said. “Love the weather. This will be our home base for sure.”