Otto Hahne has lived in Troy, Mich., for years. He and his wife, Jerrianne, raised three children there and built a house.
But until a few years ago, he couldn’t locate his business in the city. Troy’s zoning regulations banned independent dealers.
That changed with the economic downturn.
Today, Hahne’s City of Cars is one of several used-car operations located around the Troy Motor Mall, formerly an enclave only for franchise dealers.
The city’s change of attitude came at the perfect time for Hahne. He operated out of a building in a suburb north of Troy and the owner of that building had just sold it to a hospital.
It was much smaller than his current store, so there was an opportunity to grow. However, the cost was also larger.
“It was a big choice to make,” Hahne said.
“I thought I was biting off more than I could chew at the time.”
Meeting with city officials convinced Hahne to take the chance.
As soon as the city changed its policy, it completely changed its attitude, Hahne said, and has completely supported his operation.
“They’ve been absolutely wonderful to work with,” Hahne said.
The new store came with a new name. City of Cars provides better visibility online, Hahne said.
Digital marketing plays a big part in Hahne’s strategy.
“Every minute a car is not on the Internet is a minute of lost opportunity,” he said.
Hahne has also been on the cutting edge of technology. He started as a mechanic working on the electronic systems just coming into cars in the late ‘70s.
City of Cars retails 35 to 50 units a month and wholesales about 100. Hahne retails about 15 units a month in a recently opened second location in a neighboring city.
His cars go all over the country and even overseas.
City of Cars recently shipped a green Mustang to Indiana and a 2007 Shelby to France.
The store’s real strength, however, is repeat and referral business.
“We want to sell a customer a car they want, not what we have,” Hahne said.
A few years ago, Hahne saw the used-car industry was under threat and he became more active with the Michigan Independent Automobile Dealers Association. He is now in his second term as president.
His activities include being part of the NIADA’s Leadership Summit in D.C.
Pretty good for a guy who left high school after two weeks.
Hahne went to night school for auto mechanics after that, graduating at the top of his class. He also worked at a skating rink and started his first business, renting out skates at the local parks.
In 1977, Hahne became a mechanic full time. He went to work at a dealership that sold two smaller import brands – Subarus and Triumphs.
The dealership still operates as Hodges Subaru, but the Triumph brand folded in 1980. The owners gave Hahne the chance to take over one of their buildings, as well as a parts department credit to start a garage to service, restore and sell British cars.
Hahne also started a motorcycle auction. In 1991, wholesaler John Cooper, one of his best clients hired him as a buyer.
This led to him starting his own used-car store in 2000 with his wife.
Today, City of Cars is a true family business.
Son, Evan; daughter, Lauren; and her husband, Alan Surprenant, all work there.
A third daughter, Leah Skalnek, is married to a Ford dealer and helps with social media. She also heads up City of Cars’ dog events with Detroit Dog Rescue.
Jerrianne has a play space in her office for when the grandkids visit the business.
Other employees are like family. Hahne is proud that he has mentored several employees who now own their own used-car stores.
Despite the presence of these young people, Hahne doesn’t see himself stepping back from the day-to-day operations any time soon.
“We plan on being here for years,” Hahne said.