When he was young, Rick Matthews had a passion for automobiles. But he didn't dream of owning a sports car or becoming a famous NASCAR driver. Instead, Matthews wanted to own a car dealership that sold quality vehicles and broke the mold in terms of customer satisfaction.
In 2000, Rick Matthews Buick GMC replaced the Wes Harris sign on Cortez Boulevard, just five miles west of Brooksville, with his own namesake. And for 12 years, the dealership has maintained an impressive image for quality new and used vehicles, great customer service and honest auto repair and workmanship.
Recently, the dealership underwent a re-facing, similar to that of Register Chevrolet last year, initiated by the General Motor's franchise to encourage brand recognition.
General Motors wanted all the dealerships to be uniform. "They wanted Buick GMC to look the same and Chevrolet to look the same," Matthews said. "When people see us, they will know we are a Buick GMC dealer. They are now pretty much the same inside and out."
Matthews used a local contractor, NFP Builders in Spring Hill, to do the reconstruction, which included a complete re-facing of the front of the building and full renovations of the interior.
The project took about four months to complete, while business went on as usual inside a temporary office that was installed in the front parking lot.
The result is a streamlined, state-of-the-art front façade with a sleek arched "eyebrow" curvature and pillared entry. The interior showroom is brighter and more open, and the offices are strategically placed.
More than 350 new and used vehicles are on display throughout the impressive lot. New cars, trucks and SUVs provide a dynamic sampling of the brand's most popular models.
In the Buick line, Matthews said, the LaCrosse and the Enclave tend to be the most popular. In the GMC line, the Sierra, the Arcadia and the Terrain are the top sellers.
Traditionally, Buick has appealed to an older customer base. But Matthews said the demographics are beginning to shift downward a bit. "We are getting a lot of trades from imports because Buick is a little more upscale and a little younger looking than before."
Rick Matthews Buick GMC is a favorite with customers because of its focus on detail, integrity and quality customer service. And that is exactly what Matthews had hoped to accomplish.
He owned two successful dealerships before opening Rick Matthews in Hernando County. One was a partnership in another Buick GMC dealership in Albuquerque, N.M., and the other a Dodge dealership in Franklin, Tenn.
His connection to Wes Harris, the original Buick dealer in Brooksville, began when the two met as members of the National Automobile Dealers Association. Matthews learned that Harris was selling his dealership.
"I always wanted to live in Florida," Matthews said. So he sold his other two stores and opened Rick Matthews 12 years ago.
Rick Matthews has managed to keep the doors open during an unstable economy without losing any of his staff to layoffs. And many of his employees have been with the company for years.
"We've been lucky," he said.
Recurring customers, like Dave Milliman of Brooksville, would argue that luck has nothing to do with Rick Matthews' longevity.
"I started buying cars from Rick Matthews in 2005 when I moved to Hernando County," he said. "I'm always looking for a dealer who is honest, easy to work with and isn't high pressured."
Milliman has lived in four states and has purchased automobiles from several different dealers through the years. "I can't say enough about them. It doesn't matter if you are working with their sales, service or parts departments. You are always greeted with a smile."
While passionate about the auto industry, it wasn't where Rick Matthews got his start. "I used to be a bricklayer, of all things," he said with a chuckle. "I became a journeymen bricklayer in the union, and I hated it."
So he got a job at his local Chevrolet dealer. "And after I started selling cars I said, 'You know, I'm going to own one of these one day.' I worked my tail off and got there."
The industry has changed over the years, but Buick and GMC remain powerful American-made brands. The product speaks for itself. But the quality customer care given by Rick Matthews is what keeps the dealership viable year after year.
Sometimes it's the little things that make the biggest difference; like beginning each morning at Rick Matthews with batches of fresh baked cookies. By 10 a.m., fresh popcorn is popping — a tradition started with Wes Harris — and offered to customers throughout the day.
"The only thing that sets us apart from anyone else is our service," Matthews said.
Rick Matthews is open for sales Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The service department is open 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
Biz at a Glance
Biz at a Glance
Name: Rick Matthews Buick GMC
Address: 15164 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville
Telephone: (352) 796-3553