Dealership Spotlight - Ourisman Auto Group

It seems that selling cars is in the Ourisman family’s DNA. Their automotive dynasty spans four generations and consists of 26 franchises in 17 different locations in the metropolitan Washington D.C. area. Depending on market conditions, the group retails between 25,000 and 30,000 vehicles annually and employs more than 2,000 dealership personnel. Much has changed since Benjamin Ourisman started it all with a single store, Ourisman Chevrolet, at 6th and H Street NE, in Washington D.C., more than 90 years ago – but one thing remains the same: the Ourisman family clan is at the helm.

“It’s a great family business, and we love being a part of it,” says John Ourisman, grandson of Benjamin Ourisman. The “we” he is referring to is his brother Bobby Ourisman, stepbrother Danny Korengold, and his own two sons, Christopher and Benjamin.

In the early to mid-1970s (after a lifetime of summers spent helping out at the dealership), John, Danny and Bobby all went to work full-time for their father, Mandell, who had been given ownership of the Chevrolet dealership by his father Benjamin. By the time Mandell retired in 1982, the trio had not only shown they had the skill and know-how to successfully operate Ourisman Chevrolet, they had also added three more stores to the Ourisman repertoire.

“My brothers and I wanted to expand,” John explains. “Our competition had been doing it for years, and we were behind the curve. When we got the chance, we spread our wings and grew.”

Their wingspan was small at first. Danny started Ourisman Dodge and Ourisman’s World of Ford first, in Alexandria, Virginia in 1978 and 1982 respectively. Next, Bobby expanded to Bethesda, Maryland with Ourisman Ford. “It’s been a continuous expansion ever since,” John says. 

Today, the Ourisman family name can be seen on scores of dealerships of nearly all brands throughout the D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas, including Fairfax, Alexandria, Chantilly, Bethesda, Rockville, Laurel, Bowie, Marlow Heights and Clarksville.

While they certainly boast a large quantity of stores, the brothers were careful not to grow too big or too far. “The farthest store from the Washington Beltway is 20 minutes away,” John says. They are spread far enough to maintain a pretty solid handle on the Washington D.C. market, yet near enough to monitor and continue close relationships with each and every store.

And they don’t show any signs of letting up: In the past few years during the downturn, the Ourisman Automotive Group has gained five stores - two Hyundai, one Kia, one Mazda and one Chevrolet/Buick/GMC – and two more partners. John’s sons, Christopher and Benjamin, both decided to follow in their father’s, uncle’s, grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s footsteps and have joined in the family automotive business, successfully running their own operations.

When it comes to the reasons behind the Ourisman’s long-lasting success, John doesn’t hesitate to credit his personnel. “It’s not really a secret,” he says. “The critical element has always been, and will always be, the great people we work with every day. We’re not perfect, but we are hands-on owners, available and present. We strive to be understanding employers.” He also notes an unspoken code of ethics that they were all taught at an early age. “My brothers and I grew up with an honor code … as did my sons.” he says. “My brothers do a great job. My sons are learning as well.”

When it came time to choose a new F&I provider after the company they were using exited the marketplace, the brothers decided to look for a provider with that same code of ethics. Bobby and Danny did some research and liked the product package that JM&A Group had to offer. Twenty years later, the relationship is still going strong.  “We joined for the top-notch products,” John says. “But the ongoing support and training is what has kept us with them. That was superior value added.”

The final ingredient in their recipe for success, John says, is a deep-rooted and shared camaraderie among family members. “No one is the boss of anyone else,” he says. “There are no titles. The most important currency that we exchange between each other is the currency of goodwill.”

This equal opportunity business model has helped them avoid issues that often plague family-succession businesses, and it keeps them focused on more important matters, namely, the future. And in the Ourisman family, there is always room for growth.

Jan 1, 2012