Three years ago, John Miller bought a Cadillac franchise to take advantage of the bold advances and sharper image he saw the General Motors company creating for the long-held brand. Now Miller is hoping that investment will pay off in one of the most affluent areas in the state.
Miller Brothers Automotive Family recently opened a new Ellicott City showroom for Cadillac, expanding the franchise with the aim of attracting luxury car buyers in Howard County, which has relatively few luxury choices.
The showroom, adjacent to the Miller Brothers Chevrolet dealership on U.S. 40 and visible from the busy strip, is the third for the company that sells Chevrolet, Ford, and Oldsmobile in addition to Cadillac, and part of an almost $2 million project that included renovating the other dealerships.
Miller and Cadillac might be on the leading edge of a trend.
Luxury dealerships typically are small and placed more sparsely in a region than high-volume dealerships. Howard County has only an Acura and Infiniti dealership, both on U.S. 40. A BMW dealership also is on U.S. 40 in neighboring Baltimore County. Most others are clustered in Silver Spring, Rockville and Owings Mills.
But with demographics that place it as one of the most affluent counties in the nation, Howard is prime for more luxury dealers, said J. Peter Kitzmiller, president of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association.
"Over time you will see some more shifting of existing [luxury] dealerships closer to their customer base," he said "It takes a while. The luxury makes tend to have fewer dealerships, [and] they don't add dealerships as often."
Miller hopes to capitalize on the absence of competitors.
The new 8,000-square-foot showroom is part of the move to expand the Cadillac franchise, which he purchased in 2000. According to General Manager Bob Palmer, the dealership hired four salespeople, and will begin stocking 100 vehicles in the fleet, up from 60.
The new showroom has had an impact on business, bringing in more service calls to the company, Palmer said.
"Usually, that's from visibility," he said. "It'll increase our sales. I think Ellicott City has been a long time waiting for a luxury domestic vehicle."
The expansion for Miller Brothers occurs as the family celebrates 74 years in business. John Miller's father, Walter, opened a dealership in Ellicott City with his brother Charles in 1929, when people used a horse and buggy to travel between the city's mills and Baltimore.
The company grew, and the brothers split, with Walter taking a dealership in Elkridge, which John Miller and his brother Robert took over in the 1970s. John and Robert sold the Elkridge dealership in 1986, and purchased the Chevrolet center operated by their cousins. Almost a decade later in 1995, the family bought Normandy Ford on U.S. 40, where Robert, an equal partner, remains as general manager.
Sales for the company have been record-breaking, as with the overall automotive industry. Sales last year were $100 million for all brands, Miller said, but they have been off by about 10 percent for the first six months of this year.
Miller said he hopes the new showroom will help Cadillac take off in the area.
"We think its going to do real well. [Cadillac's] volume has shown improvement for the last four years and the product plans they've put in place, are now coming to fruition," he said. "I thought it'd be a good time to make my investment and get in on the upsurge."