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Ashland-based Spartan buys dealership in Wyoming

Spartan Automotive Group is acquiring its first Buick/GMC/Cadillac operation this week in Casper, Wyoming.

It's the seventh franchise dealership in five states for the Ashland-based auto retailer, which is led by former Lithia Motors executive Don Jones.

Spartan Automotive also operates franchises in California, Montana, Oregon and Washington, with 250 employees.

"We're risk adverse by being in different markets with different product lines," Jones said while he and his management team were en route to Wyoming Wednesday. "This was an opportunity that mirrored the plan."

Jones said his strategy is similar to the one Lithia Chairman Sid DeBoer employed in the 1990s.

"We're in regional markets, focusing on dealerships that are under-performing and devoid of leadership," Jones said. "We're a lot more hands-on, with no layers between us and the leaders of the store."

Coincidentally, Lithia Motors acquired Casper's Ford dealership from the same ownership group and took possession Wednesday.

Just as the Rogue Valley has benefited from Harry & David alumni in its entrepreneurial ranks, Jones has put former Lithia Motors hands to work in his Western enterprise.

"All of our leaders and management teams have worked at Lithia," Jones said. "It's a very good training ground."

Although Spartan Automotive generally develops its own leaders, it's not always easy to redeploy talent.

"Most of our people are happy where they are living and like where they are working."

Jones has three vested partners in the organization — Chris Christianson, the general manager at Laurel Ford in Montana, Greg Coleman, the general manager at Toyota of Pullman in Washington, and Jill Hetzel, the vice president and controller.

Spartan's most recent previous acquisition was a Subaru franchise in Missoula, Montana, in April 2014.

"I try to buy the right product for the right area," Jones said. "I wouldn't have an Acura dealership in the Northwest, but it makes a lot of sense in the Coachella Valley."

Given his present ability to communicate both with employees and manufacturers, Jones said he doesn't have designs to grow much beyond the present size.

"I think eight is about as many as we can handle with this model," he said.

Wyoming auto partners Bill Schmidt and Pete Greiner sold both Greiner Motors, a Ford and Lincoln dealership that employs 138 people and generates about $75 million in annual revenue, and the Buick/GMC/Cadillac outlet, which employs 46 and has sales of about $25 million.

"It doesn't have the shine the Ford store has," Jones said. "We're hoping to give it the shine."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31