Edd Kirby's Adventure Mazda back to local roots

Edd Kirby's Adventure Mazda back to local roots

October 29th, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Joe Kirby, left, owner of Edd Kirby's Adventure Mazda, enjoys a light-hearted moment with entertainer Dana Rogers in the showroom Friday following the dealership's grand opening celebration.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Adventure Mazda at a Glance


• Location - 400 W. M.L. King Blvd.

• Number of employees - 20

• Number of cars - 300, including 100 new Mazdas with the rest used

• Cost of renovation - $200,000

• Plans: To double the number of Adventure Mazda employees to 40; that would give the company 95 workers between the Dalton and Chattanooga locations

Source: Edd Kirby's Adventure Mazda

Edd Kirby's Adventure Mazda cut the ribbon at its new dealership Friday, taking a step into the 21st century with its hybrid sales strategy of in-store and online sales.

The newest location at 400 West M.L. King Blvd., is its second site after the Dalton, Ga., home base.

It's also the heart of dealer Joe Kirby's Internet sales strategy, which he said saved the dealership from financial ruin when Dalton's economy screeched to a halt in 2008.

Joe Kirby, son of founder Edd Kirby, said the key to the company's longevity has been its ability to change with the times - along with a double dose of "providence."

"Sometimes it feels like you're playing dodgeball," he said.

The Kirbys have dodged multiple extended recessions, avoided government-spearheaded franchise revocations, and adapted to changing consumer tastes.

Now, they've partnered with Mazda, a rising star in the industry, to sell cars that a leading consumer magazine says are a second in long-term durability to Toyota's Scion brand, excluding luxury vehicles, Kirby said.

But Mazda is just the latest in a laundry list of brands the family has sold.

The Kirbys have sold cars as long as any other dealer in Chattanooga, and Joe Kirby has got the phone book entry from 1958 to prove it.

At that time, Edd Kirby and Herb Adcox, a used-car dealer on Lee Highway, ran a Pontiac-Vauxhall-Rennult-Triumph dealership on Broad Street, where they shared a five-digit phone number.

Recession

More than 50 years and numerous buildings later, business was cruising along in 2007 at Kirby's Dalton location, where the family was selling 125 cars per month on average, he said.

But that number suddenly dropped to 100 cars in January 2008, fell to 75 by September, and hit a low of 45 in October.

"We bled so much red ink, we realized we would be gone if we didn't do something," he said.

So he partnered with AutoTrader.com to set up a online sales model, and turned the business completely around.

The Dalton location may only sell 15 new cars per month locally, but Kirby sells more than 100 cars each month online to customers around the U.S.

That effort is aided by the new photo studio he installed at the Mazda dealership, with a spinning, mirrored turntable and studio lights to catch the eyes of fast-fingered browsers.

The Buy

His wife, Becky, also serves as the company's official buyer, an important role in an industry where making good sales depends on making good buys, she says.

Finding good cars, which are rated on a scale of 1 to 5, takes a lot of time. But she says she enjoys it - comparing it to "picking out seashells on the beach."

"They call me 'Picky Becky," she joked. "I'll look at a couple thousand cars per week, I'll appraise a hundred, and I'll probably pick out 10 to buy."

Like the majority of the family business these days, the auctions all happen online. She watches a live stream of the bidding process, interacting with the auctioneers with the mouse and keyboard.

"There's just no reason to actually go to an auction," he said. "You can literally do it in your pajamas."