BOARDMAN, Ohio – From the time he was a kid, Ken Ganley knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life.
At age 14, he began to work for his father, Tom, who by that time had established several auto dealerships in the Cleveland area. “I’ve played just about every role in the dealership,” Ganley recalls, beginning as a teenager washing cars and sweeping floors. “I grew up loving the car business.”
Today, Ganley is the president and CEO of Ken Ganley Companies in Brecksville, which owns 48 auto dealerships that represent nearly every domestic and foreign automaker that does business in the United States. The majority of these franchises are in northeastern Ohio; just three are outside the state, one each in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Florida.
It was just a matter of time before Ganley, the largest auto group in Ohio and 15th largest in the country, set his sights on the Mahoning Valley. On Nov. 8, the auto group announced it had acquired the former Taylor Kia dealerships in Boardman and Alliance.
“This market is tremendous,” Ganley says. “Boardman is a great town to sell cars in and dealers do very well here.”
He’s had his eye on the Boardman market for years, Ganley says, but the opportunity never presented itself. When the Taylor family expressed an interest to sell its last two remaining dealerships, he immediately considered the move.
Often, Ganley seeks struggling dealerships that need to be reorganized and then acquires them. In this case, however, the Taylor family built and operated dealerships that were successful and earned a strong reputation within the community.
“This was a unique situation where the dealership has always been high performing,” Ganley says. “I think the timing was right for their family and it made sense to them.”
Taylor Kia of Boardman, 7870 Market St., continuously ranks among the top-selling new-vehicle dealers in the Mahoning Valley. During October, the dealership enjoyed the third-highest volume in sales with 102 new cars and trucks sold to customers in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
Matt Taylor, former owner of Taylor Kia, will remain as general manager of the Boardman and Alliance stores, as will their employees. “Our family is going through some transitions and I found someone who I thought was a nice partner in Ken Ganley,” Taylor says. “He shares a lot of the same values as our family.”
The Taylor name in local auto sales dates to 1964, when Taylor’s grandfather opened an Oldsmobile store in Niles and eventually relocated the dealership to Boardman, just south of the Kia dealership.
“We had that brand until it went away in 2004,” Taylor says.
Over the last 20 years, the family expanded into other franchises and brands, including Kia, Toyota and Chevrolet. Earlier this year, Diehl Automotive acquired Taylor’s Chevrolet, Toyota and Kia dealerships in Hermitage, Pa.
Taylor says he expects few changes at the local Ganley dealerships. The new ownership has pledged to infuse the franchises in Boardman and Alliance with more inventory, showroom upgrades and additional marketing resources.
“Ken has committed not to change the culture,” Taylor says.
Ganley says the move into the area – the Boardman store is his company’s first in the Mahoning Valley – makes perfect sense as the industry undergoes transitions. “This is an excellent market and it’s great to be around other brands and dealerships,” he says of the Market Street corridor, now home to most major new-vehicle dealers and brands found in the region.
Meanwhile, larger publicly owned companies have stepped up their acquisitions, as have private groups such as Ganley, leading to greater consolidation in the market. “You’re seeing fewer and fewer of the one and two rooftop, family-owned type of locations,” he says. “They’re still going to be there. But you’re seeing the larger groups get bigger.”
Ganley’s father founded the business in 1968 in Cleveland with an American Motors dealership. Growing up, Ganley remembers visiting the showrooms and marveling at new models each year.
“I grew up in Brecksville, went to Brecksville High School,” he says. After graduation, he enrolled in a small college in Michigan, Northwood University, which offered an automotive curriculum.
Ganley then worked his way up through the company, partnering with his father on acquisitions of dealerships in northeastern Ohio. The company grew slowly during the 1970s and 1980s.
The real growth came during the early 2000s, just as Ganley began to run the company’s day-to-day operations. His father died in 2016.
In 2017, the Ganley group purchased Central Cadillac in Cleveland, followed in 2020 with the acquisition of a Kia dealership in Medina and a Toyota store in Kent the following year.
“We’re always interested in new acquisitions and expanding in this area,” Ganley says.
Any additional growth, he says, likely would be targeted in northeastern Ohio, where most of the group’s dealerships are based.
These expansions could also include pursuing dealerships with brands such as Porsche, Lexus or Land Rover – nameplates the auto group does not currently sell, Ganley says.
“We almost have them all – not quite,” he says. “There are a few luxury brands we don’t have yet. But we’ll try to get those soon.”
In 2021, Automotive News ranked Ken Ganley Companies as the 15th-largest ownership group in the country.
Among privately held auto groups, Ganley stands as the ninth-largest, since six of the top auto dealers in terms of volume are publicly traded. In 2021, the 48-store auto group employed about 3,000, and sold a total of 81,332 vehicles. And the company generated revenues of more than $2.6 billion, according to Ganley.
Managing such a large network of dealerships presents its share of challenges, he says. Over the years, he’s learned that placing effective leaders and managers in positions of responsibility often brings out the best in the dealership. “If we have great people, I have a comfort level that things will be run the right way and do very well,” he says.
Ganley’s dealerships and others across the country have been tested over the last two years as they adjust to problems brought on by supply-chain constraints and skimpy inventories as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The last two years have been unprecedented,” Ganley says. “You never could have envisioned empty parking lots with no inventory.”
Still, business remains brisk.
“Business is good – but different,” Ganley says. “We’re selling every car that comes in pretty quickly. We’re not really stockpiling inventory at any of our locations.”
There are signs that the market is improving. In October, the Greater Cleveland Automobile Dealers Association reported that dealers in northern Ohio sold more new cars, trucks and SUVs that month than the same period a year earlier, the first year-to-year increase since June 2021.
These dealers sold 16,373 new vehicles in October, an increase of 5.56% compared to the same time in 2021.
Ganley has set his sights on the future – particularly at the new Boardman location – as the industry accelerates its transition to electric vehicles.
“Fully electric cars still have a way to go,” Ganley says. “As things progress into the future, we’ll be adding EV chargers here.”
At present, the EV infrastructure isn’t in place to support a large-scale electric-vehicle market, Ganley says. Instead, he envisions stepped up public interest among hybrids and plug-in hybrids in the short-term as automakers ease into full EV portfolios. “It’s exciting. It’s a change,” he says.
Kia, for example, manufactures the EV6 and its Niro EV subcompact SUV for the electric market. Next year, the automaker will introduce the EV9, an all-electric SUV.
“Every brand is coming out with fully electric vehicles,” Ganley says. “I think it’s still going to take a couple of years for it to become more mainstream.”
Pictured at top: Matthew Taylor, left, will remain general manager of Ken Ganley Kia, which is owned by Ken Ganley, president and CEO.