On the surface, Magic City Ford Lincoln may appear to be just your average auto dealer. But the company has been serving the Roanoke Valley since 1938, and today President Cameron Johnson is leading the company, having established himself as an entrepreneurial force to be reckoned with since before graduating high school.

    “My great-grandfather started selling Ford Model Ts, and I am a fourth-generation dealer,” Johnson says.

    “We are family owned, and our people have been with us for a long time,” Johnson adds. “We don’t have constant turnover with management or sales, which helps us generate repeat business. We are the dominant Ford dealer in the area, and that allows us to spend less on advertising.”

 

 

Standing Out

Today, Magic City Ford Lincoln is a full-service dealership that has been serving southwest Virginia for more than 70 years. The company offers a wide inventory of new vehicles and pre-owned vehicles, and it strives to offer the best selection at the best prices. The company is southwest and central Virginia’s No. 1 volume Ford and Lincoln dealer according to 2010, 2011 and 2012 Ford Motor Company, Ford and Lincoln registrations.

    Magic City Ford Lincoln also features a large service department, as well as a fully stocked parts department and a collision center. In fact, the company boasts having the largest service and parts departments in the area.

    For most of its history, Magic City Ford Lincoln was solely focused on Ford before adding Lincoln and Mercury in 2008. After Mercury went away in 2010, the company sold Ford and Lincoln automobiles from one location in Roanoke, Va. Earlier this year, the operation added a second location in Lexington, Va.

    Johnson’s personal history is as fascinating as his company’s. He started his first business at age nine and had established himself as a successful young entrepreneur before earning his high school diploma.

    Today, Johnson is still under the age of 30. Johnson’s personal resume is extensive, and it includes becoming the youngest American appointed to the board of a Tokyo-based company at age 15.

    In addition, Johnson was once a finalist on Oprah Winfrey’s The Big Give prime time series, and he hosted season four of Beat the Boss on the BBC in the U.K. Johnson is also a published author, having previously written You Call the Shots: Succeed Your Way - and Live the Life You Want - With the 19 Essential Secrets of Entrepreneurship.

    “My business background began with creating Internet companies as a teenager before I ended up getting involved in the family business,” Johnson says.

    Magic City Ford Lincoln is as versatile as its president. Having survived many of the downturns in the automotive industry, Magic City Ford Lincoln’s Roanoke location today is strong, selling approximately 100 new and 100 used cars each month. Beyond that, Magic City Ford Lincoln also services more than 1,000 cars each month . At the same time, the company delivers parts as a wholesaler to body shops, independent dealerships and competitors.

    “The keys to this business are building relationships and expense management,” Johnson says.

    “I am very hands-on, pricing and buying our inventory,” he adds. “We want to expand the company, so we are actively looking for smaller stores in rural markets while also bringing in inventory and expanding sales over the Internet.”

 

Ever Changing

Over the years, the company has continued to refine its operations. In 2004, it built a showroom next to its Roanoke headquarters that is now its used car showroom.

    In 2013, it built a new Ford showroom in Roanoke complete with new service lanes and waiting areas. Today, its Roanoke location includes two showrooms on 15 acres with 600 vehicles. Lexington has 150 vehicles. 

    “We have great locations, but we will look to expand sooner rather than later,” Johnson says.

    “I feel that we can’t just stay a single-point dealer, but need to take advantage of physical growth opportunities as well as the Internet,” Johnson adds. “Because we already dominate this market, the only way to expand is outside of this area online and with small, rural stores. There will be older dealers looking to sell, and we must be able to compete with bigger dealers with more reach through service and selection.”

    Magic City is indeed preparing for a world where more automotive transactions will take place online. This seems inevitable in an environment where paper contracts have moved to electronic contracts, more work is done on tablets and many vehicles are even delivered directly to customers.

    “It is not uncommon for us to deliver vehicles out of state. Many of our customers will still want to see, touch and feel the car before they buy, but I think we will ultimately see more of those long-distance transactions, especially for dealers with a lot of inventory,” Johnson says.

    As Magic City Ford Lincoln looks for acquisition opportunities, its general managers will ensure smooth operations at current locations on a day-to-day basis. Magic City Ford Lincoln will continue to work on finding and grooming technicians, working with higher education and high schools in the area to help build the tradespeople of tomorrow.

    In fact, the company has a partnership with a local community college that uses Magic City Ford Lincoln’s service bays for real-world training opportunities. In the end, it will be strong people in sales and service positions that will make all the difference for Magic City’s future.

    “This is a commodity business, and people can buy a car from anybody,” Johnson says. “What we have to do is provide great experience. We have won Ford’s Presidents Award more than 12 times. It is critical that customer-facing employees give a positive experience to customers.” 

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