How To Start A Car Dealership

How To Start A Car Dealership

Opening a car dealership is a major undertaking that requires substantial capital, industry experience, licensing, strategic planning, and expert execution. While the potential profits from selling new and used vehicles can be considerable,

launching a successful, reputable dealership takes immense dedication and preparation. This guide will walk through the key steps for starting a car dealership business in 2023.

Develop a Business Plan

Like any new venture, the first step is crafting a comprehensive business plan for your dealership. This includes researching your local market, drafting financial projections, detailing operations, hiring needs, inventory plans, marketing strategy and more. Having a solid plan establishes credibility with manufacturers and lenders as you seek approvals and financing down the road. It also helps guide decision-making once open.

Choose a Brand and Location

One of the biggest initial decisions is choosing the automaker brand(s) you aim to sell, as well as identifying an ideal location. Study demographics, income statistics, and competition in your target region. Look at market share data to see top-selling brands that align with customer demand. Also consider facilities requirements for each manufacturer. Prime retail sites have acreage for inventory, showroom space, and service capacity. Be prepared to invest substantially in real estate.

Choose A Brand And Location
Choose a Brand and Location

Apply for Dealership Licensing

Each car DEALERSHIP brand has specific legal criteria that dealers must meet to gain approval. This includes financial resources, industry experience, facilities standards, inventory commitments, and more. The application process can take several months as they thoroughly vet candidates and locations. Many brands limit the number of dealers in a region, so you may need to wait for an open slot. Having a strong business plan is key.

Secure Startup Capital

Between real estate costs, construction, inventory, and operating expenses, launching a dealership requires substantial capital. While exact amounts vary based on many factors, most experts recommend at least $3-5 million minimum on hand. Financing options include bank loans, private investments, and manufacturer/distributor support. Strong credit, business records, and financial planning aid approval odds.

Design and Set Up Facilities

Dealerships require several dedicated spaces – a showroom, customer lounge, offices, service center with lifts/bays, parts department, and plenty of outdoor vehicle inventory storage. The facilities must meet automaker specifications in terms of technology, tools, branding, and security. Building new facilities or completely renovating an existing retail space pre-opening is common. The investment creates an appealing sales environment.

Recruit and Train Staff

Hiring experienced staff in key roles — like sales, finance, service, and parts management — is vital when launching a new dealership. Retail automotive experience helps ensure you create efficient operations built on industry best practices. Also budget for extensive brand-specific and general dealership training to get your team ready. A mix of seasoned veterans and eager new hires make a solid lineup.

Recruit And Train Staff
Recruit and Train Staff

Obtain Inventory for Sales and Service

New car dealership must commit to acquiring an initial inventory of vehicles as part of franchise agreements. Used car dealers need policies for sourcing quality pre-owned trade-ins and auction vehicles. Having ample stock for customers to browse is essential on opening day and beyond. Parts inventory and specialty tools for service are another requirement to procure.

Market Your Dealership

In the months before opening, begin advertising and outreach to spread awareness. This builds buzz and reaches potential customers. Print, digital, radio, TV, direct mail, signage, PR, and community events are all options. Develop a distinct brand identity. Leverage manufacturer marketing funds if available. Ongoing promotional campaigns will be critical after launch.

Handle Pre-Opening Logistics

From grand opening event planning to applying for local business licenses, don’t underestimate the many administrative, legal, and operational details involved with getting a dealership up and running. Building strong relationships with the brand manufacturer reps you’ll coordinate with daily also helps ensure you start off on the right foot.

Launch Operations and Manage Growth

Once open, focus on building inventory supply channels, hiring and training staff to meet growing demand, fine-tuning systems and procedures, balancing overhead costs with revenue, and most importantly, delivering a stellar customer experience. Adapt operations over the first year based on sales patterns, digital trends, competitor actions, and local economic conditions.

Keys to Sustaining a Successful Car Dealership

Gaining momentum after the grand opening takes consistent commitment:

  • Maintain adequate new and used vehicle inventory levels to meet buyer demand. This may mean acquiring competitively priced vehicles at auctions.
  • Keep showroom vehicles in pristine condition with reconditioning services to impress shoppers.
  • Offer competitive pricing using online research and monitoring competitors’ listings.
  • Develop a customer-for-life mentality with high-quality service after the sale. This builds loyalty and referrals.
  • Invest in ongoing staff training to uphold expertise and motivation.
  • Consistently market through multiple channels to stay top of mind with car shoppers.
  • Keep facilities updated and appealing. Customers will notice outdated decor or cramped spaces.
  • Adapt to emerging auto industry technology and shopping trends, like online purchasing.

Opening a car dealership takes passion, persistence, preparation, and substantial capital. But for those committed to building an automotive brand in their community, the ability to turn their passion into a thriving business is worth the demands of getting started.

With dedication to serving customers well, a new entrepreneurial dealership can grow into a secure, prosperous flagship enterprise.

Choosing a Dealership Model

  • New car dealers sell brand new vehicles and maintain manufacturer relationships. Most common model.
  • Used car dealers source and sell only pre-owned vehicles. Lower startup costs but limited inventory control.
  • Independent dealers offer varied new and used inventory without factory backing.
  • Multi-franchise dealers carry brands from several automakers under one roof. Benefits of scale but complex.
  • Specialty/exotic dealers focus on high-end brands like Porsche, Ferrari, etc. Must prove elite market capabilities.
Choosing A Dealership Model
Choosing a Dealership Model

Considerations for Facilities and Construction

  • Size based on inventory capacity needs, manufacturer standards, sales and service bays.
  • Site plans balance showroom, offices, shops, parking, test drives.
  • Phased construction can open sales ahead of service center.
  • Ample electricity and broadband are essential.
  • Branded design elements give identity.
  • Many opt for green LEED-certified buildings.

Leveraging Digital Tools and Technology

  • CRM systems track sales, service, and marketing.
  • Market pricing tools optimize inventory costs and sales pricing.
  • eCommerce sites simplify purchasing.
  • Marketing automation platforms streamline campaigns.
  • Productivity software connects workflows.
  • Review monitoring improves customer feedback responses.

Building Out Dealership Departments

  • Service department handles repairs and maintenance. Technicians need training and specialty tools.
  • Parts department stocks components and accessories crucial for service repairs. Robust inventory management needed.
  • F&I department assists with financing and protection plans to support profitability. Lender relationships key.
  • Administrative department manages payroll, bookkeeping, DMV paperwork for smooth operations.

Hiring Expert Personnel

  • General manager oversees daily activities and team leadership. Requires automotive business expertise.
  • Sales managers coach and lead sales team. Strong interpersonal and sales driven mindsets.
  • Salespeople handle prospecting, negotiating deals, ensuring excellent purchase experiences.
  • Service advisors combine customer service and technical aptitude.
  • Online sales capabilities important as digital shopping rises.
  • EV preparations like charging stations and technician training make sense.
  • Pricing/fee transparency initiatives build consumer trust.
  • Vehicle subscription plans allow flexible customer access.


What is the total cost to open a new car dealership?

The total costs including real estate, construction, inventory, hiring, training, etc. often ranges from $2 million to over $10 million. Highly dependent on brand, location, facilities, and inventory levels.

What facility requirements are there?

Manufacturers have specifications for minimum acreage, showroom size, service bays, total lot capacity, amenities, signage, etc. New construction or major renovations are typical.

How much working capital should I have before opening?

Experts recommend having at least 6 months of operating capital available when starting a dealership to cover expenses before sales and service revenue pick up. This provides a financial buffer.

What inventory is required at launch?

New car dealers must stock an initial set of models and trim levels to provide customer choice. Used car inventory should offer a wide selection of makes/models, years, price points.

How many employees are needed to operate?

Most dealerships will require 15-40+ employees including sales, service techs, support staff, and management. Staffing levels grow as operations expand.

What experience is required to start a dealership?

Many manufacturers require 2-5+ years in dealership management positions. Success launching other businesses is also valued. Partners can combine different expertise.

How long does the licensing/approval process take?

After the lengthy application process, most manufacturers take 4-12 months to make a final decision on granting a new franchise agreement for their brand.

What marketing activities are most effective?

A mix of digital marketing, print/radio/TV ads, direct mail, PR, social media, and community events is recommended before and after opening.

What are the ongoing costs after launch?

Ongoing costs include inventory purchases, employee payroll, loan interest, utilities, maintenance, advertising, insurance, taxes, technology, etc. Budgeting discipline is key.

What support does the manufacturer provide?

Manufacturers provide training, co-op advertising funds, operating procedures, vehicle allocation guidance, proprietary technology systems, and field representatives.


Launching a new car dealership is an extremely challenging but potentially rewarding endeavor for aspiring entrepreneurs with a passion for the automotive retail industry. Doing thorough research, planning, and preparation before taking the leap is critical to build a solid foundation for success.

Be ready to invest substantial capital and work tirelessly to bring the business vision to life. Form strategic partnerships, assemble an all-star team, and deliver exceptional customer experiences from day one. With tenacity and smart business acumen,

new dealership owners can grow profitable enterprises that become pillars of the community for years to come. While the road to opening is long and demanding, realizing the dream of establishing a thriving automotive brand makes the destination well worth the demanding journey.

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