‘Bittersweet Moment’ as Sweeney Dealerships Officially Announce Sale to #1 Cochran

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In a bittersweet, emotional moment Friday, Alexa Sweeney Blackann, president of Sweeney Buick GMC and Sweeney Chevrolet in Boardman, announced the sale of her family’s longtime dealerships to Pittsburgh-based #1 Cochran.

“Many people may not realize how difficult a decision this was for my family and me,” Blackann said at a news conference at the Buick GMC dealership on Market Street. 

“It’s assuming this is an automotive business, but it’s really a people business,” she said. “You can tell that by the people that are here today,” she noted, gesturing to the dozens of guests and employees who gathered for the announcement.

Blackann said that when the Cochran dealership group first approached her about a sale, she was inclined to turn down any offers. However, after in-depth discussions with her family, including her father, former president Doug Sweeney, it was decided that a sale was in the best interests for the family and the dealerships’ employees.

“After months of conversations, we realized how similar our organizations are,” Blackann said.  “By combining our team with his organization’s footprint and selection of brands, it could become quite a powerful force in this market.”

The Sweeney dealership, which got its start as the Stearns Motor Co. in 1921, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2021.

Nearly all of Sweeney’s 200 employees will transfer to #1 Cochran, and the dealerships will be rebranded #1 Cochran Chevrolet and #1 Cochran Buick GMC. The Sweeney acquisition marks the Cochran dealership’s first retail store in Ohio. Terms were not disclosed.

Blackann will not be transitioning to the new ownership group. She said it’s unclear what her next venture would be, but emphasized she wants to spend more time with her family and children.

“Big shoes to fill,” added Rob Cochran, president and CEO of #1 Cochran. “This certainly is an incredible legacy to continue to carry on.”

Cochran said he’s known the Sweeney family for years, and first contemplated acquiring the dealerships in 2021 and had the first serious discussions on Memorial Day weekend of that year. “She said she would have to think about this a long time,” he recalled.

Toward the end of that year, discussions had resumed and carried on through 2022, Cochran said. “It was pretty much agreed to by May or June,” he said.

The dealerships confirmed last month that a sale agreement was reached, and the official transaction occurred Friday.

“I have the utmost respect for Alexa and her family,” Cochran said. Knowing Alexa and knowing her father for many, many years, this was an easy transaction for us to get really excited about.”

Cochran said that, initially, few changes would be made at the Sweeney dealerships, but future plans call for implementing new technology platforms. “We invest heavily in technology, and we think there are scale benefits and development opportunities,” he said. “It ends up being focused on where the customer wants to go.”

Cochran’s father, Bob, founded the dealership in 1965 as a single Pontiac retailer. A GMC franchise was added a few years later. Today, the Pittsburgh-area dealership lists 32 retail stores and is the largest automotive retailer in western Pennsylvania.

Cochran said Ohio is a different market but proximate to where the auto group does most of its business in southwestern Pennsylvania. “That’s part of the strategy,” he said. “We’re very focused on culture and brand.”

The CEO said the outlook this year for new auto retail sales is positive. He cited pent-up demand from customers who found it difficult to purchase new vehicles last year because of low inventories caused by supply-chain issues facing manufacturers.

“I think the sales this year will be improved from what they were a year ago,” he said.

Blackann acknowledges that she has some mixed feelings, but she’s excited for the future of the dealerships and their customers.

“It’s a bittersweet day for sure,” she said. “I really love the people. I really love the customers. But the opportunity is too important for the team here to be able to grow beyond what I could provide or even imagine, so I’m really excited for them.”

Pictured at top: Alexa Sweeney Blackann, president and CEO of Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, and Rob Cochran, CEO and president of #1 Cochran.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.