The Hummer King

Jim Lynch rules in the world of boy toys. Will he keep his throne now that GM has moved in?

Fritz, who bought the third Hummer that Lynch ever sold, says Lynch Hummer is unlike any other auto dealership. "They're like friends," says Fritz, whose second car is a GMC Yukon, one of the largest SUVs on the market. "They don't push you. They don't try to get you to buy one or anything. They just tell you what it is, they take you out for a test drive, take you through a little obstacle course and let you drive it."

David Simkins of New York, who owns a cellular-telephone company, became a Lynch fan in July at a Hummer rally in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Simkins broke the transmission transfer case on his Hummer during an ill-advised climb up a 12-foot waterfall and limped in from the field after 5 p.m. Lynch, who regularly attends Hummer events around the country, canceled happy hour and had his mechanics install a new transfer case on the spot. And he didn't charge a cent for labor. "They realized the situation I was in and got greasy again," Simkins recalls. They spent a few hours by drop lights out in the parking lot getting me back on the road. He could have waited until the next day and charged me double, and I still would have been happy."

It's all part of putting satisfaction ahead of profits. The way Lynch figures things, he'll eventually make money if he makes customers happy, even if he doesn't realize an immediate return. "We're trying to make a relationship with them so they'll never want to go anywhere else," he says.

Equally at home in the Arctic and the desert, the Hummer can go most anywhere, though not very quickly.
Jennifer Silverberg
Equally at home in the Arctic and the desert, the Hummer can go most anywhere, though not very quickly.
Jim Lynch: "We grew this business by word of mouth."
Jim Lynch: "We grew this business by word of mouth."

Lynch, who does most of his business by telephone and e-mail, has a policy of quoting trade-in prices sight unseen and sticking to his word, no matter what. At times, such a philosophy can try his patience. Take the man in California who traded in his Hummer convertible -- he said his wife wanted a hardtop model. Lynch quoted him a trade-in price on the basis of a phone conversation. "He represented it had 1,600 miles on it, like new," Lynch recalls. "We got it in from California, had it trucked in, and looked at the truck. Oh, gosh. It wasn't a happy day. It was beat to hell. This guy, I think, left it in a swamp overnight. The interior had mud stains all over. The radiator was packed with mud. If that guy had taken an Explorer or a Jeep or something and done that, it would have been total junk. It wouldn't have been worth salvaging. But a Hummer, it was just kind of a mess." Lynch didn't back out of the deal, even though he ended up losing money. "We probably spent $8,000 or $9,000 on that truck, over and above what was warrantied, getting it back into good shape," he says. "By the time it left here, it was like new again."

Fewer than 10 of the Hummers Lynch sold last year stayed in Missouri. He's shipped vehicles to customers as far away as Japan and Russia. He's sold one to Lambert Field, which uses it as a fire-rescue rig. And every one, new or used, comes with a money-back guarantee: If a customer isn't happy when his or her Hummer shows up, Lynch will take it back, no questions asked, and eat the shipping costs, which can amount to more than $10,000 in the case of an overseas sale. After more than 600 sales, Lynch hasn't had one sent back.

Whether Lynch can remain king of the Hummer dealers is questionable. Last year, General Motors bought the Hummer brand, signing a contract with AM General to produce tens of thousands of Hummers and bankrolling a $200 million plant in Mishawaka, Ind., where AM General will manufacture Hummers that will be sold by GM. Although production of the current model is not expected to increase, GM is designing a more affordable Hummer, called the H2, that will debut in 2002 and sell for about $50,000, with projected sales of 40,000 in the first year. GM, which is counting on the Hummer to help recapture the company's dwindling market share, is already talking about designing an H3 and suggests that sales may eventually reach 150,000 Hummers per year. And so the number of dealerships will mushroom. Among other areas, GM is eyeing Kansas City, Chicago, Indiana and the New York area as locations for new Hummer dealerships.

Lynch has no guarantee GM will grant him a dealership, but he's confident enough that he's taken deposits for nine H2s. GM has also named him to a dealership advisory committee that is helping with marketing plans, including where new dealerships should be located. That bodes well for a franchise, Lynch says. But his business will change as competition grows. "I think it's going to be a little bit different," he predicts. "We grew this business by word of mouth from Hummer owners all over the country. I think our philosophy will work. But I don't think the word of mouth is going to be as strong with a less-of-a-niche vehicle."

Still, Lynch says he won't change his ways, and he's not worried: "I think it would be very hard for somebody to come in and do what we've done over the last six years," he says. "There's a lot of guys who've been trying."

Related Links:
Jim Lynch Hummer Web site:
www.lynchhummer.com
Humvee-enthusiasts Web site:
www.humvee.net

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