It's all in the family at Dick Hannah Car Dealerships

Siblings handle day-to-day operations while Dad keeps up appearances

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter



Dick Hannah dealerships

What: A family-owned business of nine vehicle and three motorcycle dealerships, plus servicing centers.

Headquarters: 10808 N.E. Coxley Drive, Vancouver.

President: Dick Hannah, 73.

Vice Presidents: Jason Hannah, 43, and Jennifer Hannah, 41.

Employees: 753.

Founded: 1949.

Projected 2011 sales: $340 million.

Website: Dick Hannah.

For Jason and Jennifer Hannah, car selling is in the blood.

The tradition started with their grandfather, William Hannah, who launched a Studebaker dealership in 1949. The brother-sister business team grew up watching their father, Dick Hannah, build his Vancouver-based empire of nine regional auto dealerships. But it takes more than a knack for salesmanship to run a successful company, a lesson Jason and Jennifer Hannah learned the hard way in late 2008 when car sales plummeted nationwide. Sales dropped 45 percent in 2009 at Dick Hannah’s dealerships, which sell everything from Hondas and Kias to Jeeps and Dodge Ram pickups.

After two years of bouncing along on rough roadway, things are improving now, said Jennifer Hannah.

Annual sales are on track to hit $340 million this year, up from yearly sales that barely topped $251 million in 2009.

Company sales hit record highs in 2007, at $462 million.

Dick Hannah has also started hiring back staff. Across the company, employment dropped from its 2007 peak of nearly 1,000 workers to about 630 in 2009.

The company has recently hired between 65 and 75 people at dealerships that stretch from Bend, Ore., to Longview, including the 26-acre Vancouver Auto Mall at state Highway 500 and Andresen Road.

The Hannahs said they won’t likely forget the downturn, which started with a surge in gas prices in the final three months of 2008.

“Our biggest fear is to get fat and sloppy again,” said Jennifer Hannah, who shares the title of vice president with her brother.

The two report daily to side-by-side desks at Dick Hannah’s Vancouver headquarters, 10808 N.E. Coxley Drive.

Dick Hannah, 73, has all but handed the reins over to Jason, 43, and Jennifer, 41. But the family’s patriarch still holds the title of president. His is also the one and only face of Dick Hannah the company, Jason Hannah said.

“Dad is the one who shows up at all the events and shakes hands. He is our community liaison,” he said.

That gives Jason and Jennifer more time to oversee the company, Jennifer Hannah said. The two sometimes tussled as kids, but not anymore.

“Most people are fascinated with how like-minded we are and how well we get along,” she said.

The duo credit their father’s business counseling.

“He’s not overbearing,” Jason said.

They also credit the general managers of the company’s 12 dealerships, which sell everything from motorcycles at three different Pro Caliber dealerships to cars and pickups made by Acura, Dodge, Chrysler, Honda, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Scion, Subaru, Toyota and Volkswagen.

Although sales appear to be leveling out, the auto industry’s recovery remains threatened by supply shortages, as Japanese manufacturers of vehicles and parts struggle to keep up with the orders, Jason Hannah said.

“We’re just doing our best to live in the moment and hold on,” he said.

The company also is bracing itself for another potential hit to the bottom line three years out from the end of the downturn. That’s when the Dick Hannah dealerships could see a sales slump from its service department revenue, which accounts for about 50 percent of company sales. Repair business revenue typically lags shifts in vehicle sales by about three years.

Meanwhile, the Hannahs have launched several business and community projects aimed at generating more income and shedding a positive light on the business.

Website upgrade

Jason Hannah has spent the last several months working with the dealerships information technology staff and hopes to roll out the company’s improved $1 million website within the next couple of months.

The brother-and-sister business partners continue to search for small dealerships to add to the company’s growing empire, although they would not discuss deals in the works.

The Hannahs believe their company’s diverse vehicle line-up is another key to Dick Hannah’s success. Both have seen the popularity of car models and manufacturers wax and wane over the years.

Each has a favorite vehicle as well.

Jason drives a black Dodge Power Wagon, while Jennifer prefers her black Jeep Grand Cherokee.

“Jen has had a love affair with the Jeep since forever,” said Jason Hannah, teasingly.

The Hannahs shrugged when asked whether they had considered taking their personalities public by starring in their own television commercials. It’s a source of reluctance, said Jason, adding that he and his sister each have spouses and young families.

Besides, their father “covers a lot of ground for us,” Jason Hannah said. The senior car salesman attends most of the company’s customer appreciation events, enjoying a bit of notoriety from devoted patrons.

“He’s far from being an egomaniac,” Jason Hannah said. “He just likes being Dick Hannah.”