Car Dealer Leaves the Dark Side: Concierge Service Alternative to Dealership

Apr 25, 2011 at 8:30 am
Stephen Cancila: Former dealership manager has a new business plan
Stephen Cancila: Former dealership manager has a new business plan
Take it from this occasional customer: There is nothing less fun than buying a used car.

You may be the kind of no-nonsense shopper who knows what you want and has your checkbook in hand. They're still going to insist on dicking around. And making you dicker. And, ultimately, trying to dick you over.

But one former dealership manager has a way out for car buyers: a personalized concierge service. And, he says, it won't even cost you more than buying from a dealership.

Stephen Cancila's family has long been in the car sales industry. They're the guys behind Marty Cancila Dodge Chrysler Jeep -- they used to also have KIA and Mitsubishi dealerships.
"I got a degree at Missouri State University and then got back into the family business," he explains. "I worked there for twenty years after college, running two separate dealerships for my family." But when the family decided to downsize to just one dealership, Cancila and his brother realized they were both happier being the boss, he says. ("You can't have two chiefs in the tent," he philosophizes.) He decided to move along.

And within months, Cancila found himself musing about a new way to sell cars. He'd long assisted friends and family by helping them decide what kind of car they wanted to get, vetting the options and then purchasing the best one at a used-car auction. Why not provide that service to paying clients who were sick of the car dealership runaround -- and, thanks to the Internet, knew exactly what they wanted?

It's the flip side of the classic dealer-based model, he says, where dealers stock as many cars as they can, and then try to push them on customers, whether or not they're what the buyer is looking for. "There's a lot you don't see going on invisibly at dealerships," he tells Daily RFT. "They'll have meetings: 'We've got these cars, and this one is getting old, so you've got to move it.' You're looking at $15 million worth of pressure from the minute you walk in the door."

His business model turns that around by helping customers track down, and close on, the car they really want. It also has significantly less overhead, because he's only buying cars at auction once he knows he's got a buyer lined up. He declines to tell Daily RFT specifically what his cut is, but Cancila promises that his prices will be equivalent, even with all the one-on-one service. And there's no payment at all until the customer buys the car -- in which case, his fee is part of the sticker price.

Any frustrated car shopper can surely see the appeal. Cancila is pleased to report that without doing a lick of marketing, he's already sold 40 cars since hanging out his shingle in October -- including one to the officer at Pulaski Bank who signed off on an investment in his new company.

So that only left us with one question: How does Cancila's family feel about him giving customers a real alternative to the dealership experience? He only pauses for a second before answering: "My dad, actually, said, 'I hope everything is going great for you.'"

He adds, "Right now I'm just a small fish in a big pond. Yeah, people say, 'You need to franchise this.' No. I've done the 70-hour-a-week thing, the not-seeing-my-family thing. This is a good change of life experience for me."

Casila's business, Concierge Automotive Services. is launching its website later this week. (It'll be at If you need a car now and can't wait, he says he'll happily take an e-mail at [email protected].