Sales­man re­calls how car deal­ing changed

Na­tion­wide’s pres­i­dent has spent nearly 60 years in the business

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - MARYLAND - By Sarah Gantz [email protected]­ twit­­gantz

As Bill Schae­fer re­opens his Na­tion­wide In­finiti car deal­er­ship af­ter a $3.5 mil­lion top-to-bot­tom ren­o­va­tion, the 80-year-old sales­man re­mem­bers a sim­pler time in car deal­ing.

Schae­fer, a Bal­ti­more na­tive, turned to the car business in 1958, when he was in his 20s. His fa­ther was a plum­ber, but Schae­fer pre­ferred cars.

“I just like the car business — I like cars,” he said.

Schae­fer started out sell­ing used cars at a Ford deal­er­ship and man­aged a few other lots be­fore open­ing his own used-car deal­er­ship in the early 1960s.

The business was less com­pli­cated back then. Peo­ple had fewer choices — the pop­u­lar op­tions were Amer­i­can makes Ford and Chevy. There were fewer deal­er­ships to com­pete with for cus­tomers, and buy­ers didn’t have the in­ter­net to shop around.

“Back when I started, you put an ad in the pa­per, peo­ple called you on the phone and they came in,” Schae­fer said.

As for­eign cars be­came more pop­u­lar, he opened a Nis­san deal­er­ship in 1970. Na­tion­wide Kia opened in 1980. The newly ren­o­vated In­finiti de­buted in 1989. Na­tion­wide cel­e­brated a mas­sive ren­o­va­tion at the In­finiti deal­er­ship, needed to meet the dealer’s lat­est de­sign spec­i­fi­ca­tions, with a grand re­open­ing event Thurs­day.

The in­ter­net turned car shop­ping on its head. Con­sumers could go on­line to learn more about dif­fer­ent makes and mod­els, and com­pare prices be­tween deal­ers in the area to find the best price.

Ad­ver­tise­ments were more ef­fec­tive on­line. To at­tract cus­tomers, deal­er­ships had to show their in­ven­tory on­line.

Schae­fer weath­ered the changes by em­brac­ing them. Ser­vice and parts be­came a greater fo­cus and source of rev­enue for Na­tion­wide, he said.

Out­side the show­room, Schae­fer has a wife and five chil­dren, one of whom man­ages his In­finiti deal­er­ship. He had to think hard when asked what hob­bies he en­joys in his free time.

“I work most of the time,” Schae­fer said. “I’m not a golfer.”

“I like boats,” he added af­ter a pause. “I have quite a few boats.”

One of them, a 68-foot power­boat, he some­times takes on trips from Fort Laud­erdale, Fla., where he cur­rently lives, to the Ba­hamas.

There, he can re­lax, away from cars, if not the smell of en­gines.

Bill Schae­fer

Title: Home­town: Res­i­dence: Fam­ily: Hob­bies:

Bill Schaefer

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