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.
For car salesmen like Schaefer, the internet made their jobs vastly more complicated.
Advertisements were more effective online. To attract customers, dealerships had to show their inventory online. Price transparency drove competition and meant a smaller profit per vehicle, as dealers shaved their prices to make the sale, Schaefer said.
To make up the difference, Nationwide and others have had to speed up their metabolism to sell more cars.
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. He likes Freeport, the main city on Grand Bahama, and one of the closest to Fort Lauderdale. Paradise Island, Bahamas, is known for its resorts and beaches.
There, he can relax, away from cars, if not the smell of engines.
Title: President, Nationwide Motor Sales
Residence: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Family: Wife and five children
Hobbies: Boating and taking boat trips to Bahamas