CarMax, the auto retailing arm of Circuit City Stores Inc., brought its trend-setting no-hassle approach to selling used cars to Baltimore County yesterday with the opening of its newest outlet in White Marsh.
The $15 million facility is the company's second in Maryland and its 25th in the nation.
CarMax first moved into the Baltimore-Washington market when it opened its largest store -- a giant 93,000-square-foot showroom -- near Laurel 18 months ago.
The White Marsh store is only about half that size, but it stocks about 400 late-model vehicles on 17 acres and employs slightly more than 200 employees.
The store is located on the opposite side of Philadelphia Road from Nottingham Square shopping center, where Lowe's is nearing completion of a 115,000-square-foot home-improvement warehouse store.
"This is a great retail district," W. Austin Ligon, president of CarMax, said of the White Marsh area. "It draws consumers from 50 miles away."
Sandy Ruppert, a marketing coordinator for Kenilworth at Perring Park apartments, in Parkville, didn't travel nearly that far.
"I'm looking for something with an automatic transmission, air conditioning, power windows, a good locking system, and looks real good," she said after coming in to the showroom of the car lot.
"I was impressed with everything on the lot. Everything looks brand new. But best of all, nobody hassled me. I like that."
Ligon said the White Marsh store won't likely be the company's last in the Baltimore market.
"We are looking at the possibility of a store on the west side of Baltimore and potentially one in the Glen Burnie area," said Ligon. "But these stores are still two to three years off," he said. "We want to wait and see where this store draws from and then fill in any gaps."
He said it would take a year to 18 months to determine the travel patterns of shoppers at the White Marsh store.
White Marsh was not the only grand opening for CarMax yesterday. It also marked the opening of its Mitsubishi and Toyota new-car outlets in Laurel.
Since opening its first used-car superstore in Richmond, Va., in 1993, CarMax has sold more than 100,000 used cars, given more than 500,000 used-car appraisals, and attracted more than a million visitors, Ligon said.
The one thing it hasn't done is post a profit. CarMax reported a $34 million loss for the fiscal year that ended in February.
Ligon said the company has slowed its pace of store openings to about 10 a year from 15 or 18 to reduce its overhead expenses and generate more profit.
"We hope to break even this year," he said, "and be profitable next."
Another key to profitability, said Tom Thomson, an analyst with Wheat First Union in Richmond, is to cluster stores in each market area that it serves. He said this would give CarMax the critical mass needed to reduce its advertising costs.
"It costs the same to advertise three stores as one store," Thomson said.
Unlike its Laurel store and most others around the country, the White Marsh outlet will be closed on Sunday.
Pub Date: 11/24/98