By Kathryn Pomroy
Dwight G. Nelson may be a man of few words, but he is a brilliant businessman with a strong vision of where he wants to take his company, and the legacy he wants to leave to his children.
A life-long Selma, California resident, Dwight has owned and operated his family’s 90-year-old 3rd generation construction company, Lewis C. Nelson and Sons Inc., since 1965. A builder at heart, Dwight’s firm has constructed schools, hospitals, prisons, police stations and countless public works buildings in California. The base of operations, Selma, is a close-knit community of about 24,000 located in the central San Joaquin Valley.
In 1989, Dwight seized a completely different opportunity – to take over a small Chevrolet dealership.
“I was approached by a friend who worked for an auto dealer in town. He said I should buy the Chevy dealership so that I could purchase my construction trucks at cost.”
As it turned out, Dwight withdrew from that particular deal. “I had no business being a car dealer, anyway.”
It turns out, Chevrolet thought differently and invited Dwight to their district office in Fremont, CA. They encouraged him to give the whole idea of owning a Chevy dealership a shot. Shortly thereafter, he constructed a scale model of his vision of what Selma Auto Mall could be and took to the road to solicit automakers.
“I put the model into my minivan and drove down to Torrance, CA, visiting Honda, Toyota and to Pleasanton to see Nissan. Other manufacturers found my mall, the rest is history with 11 brands.”
Celebrating 30 Years
Today, Dwight is celebrating 30 years as a dealer, and Selma Auto Mall has become an automobile wonderland that serves thousands of customers from miles away with an experience unlike any other. They currently sell and service major brands like Chevrolet, Mazda, Hyundai and Kia, Genesis, Nissan, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram. In the mid-1990s, Dwight built a new Honda dealership and expanded across highway 43 with a new Nissan dealership and single point Genesis dealership.
“Because I realized the dealership had to be different than any other dealership in the area, I built Selma Auto Mall to be welcoming, convenient and very family-oriented. It’s what separates us from everyone else.”
A True Family Destination
Selma Auto Mall has become the largest single-owner auto mall from Sacramento to Los Angeles and has been featured in the National Automotive News Magazine as well as several other trade publications. The dealership stretches across a 20-acre fenced lot, with trees and shrubbery, koi ponds, waterfalls, and even bounce houses for the kids. It also has a ¾ scale train with service to an onsite restaurant, hotel, rental car facility, and gas station.
Right now, new and used car sales average 700 per month at all locations and people will travel 100 miles just to buy a car from Dwight. Their Elk Grove store is 170 miles from Selma and pulls customers from all of northern California. It starts at the top with good leadership; either from the owner or a hands-on sales team who truly cares about customers and repeat business.
Stepping It Up
Although Dwight continues to dabble in construction, in the last two years his focus has turned to making certain Selma Auto Mall consistently performs at the highest possible level of customer, employee and franchise satisfaction. But even Dwight knows he has to change with the times.
“The Internet wasn’t around 30 years ago. But today, most of my marketing budget goes to promoting Selma Auto Mall over the Internet. My kids know what millennials want, and I know what seniors want, which means we can take care of anyone from 18 to 80 years old.”
In fact, it’s Dwight’s goal to continue to serve and maintain his growing customer-base by acquiring dealerships in other locations in CA.
“I look forward to hearing from anyone wishing to expand so that when I retire – if that day ever comes – I can leave future generations the opportunity to take over a growing number of successful dealerships.”