When Juliette “Judi” Allen met her future husband while both were students at Florida Southern College, their conversation soon turned to their parents. Once she found out Roger Holler Jr. was the son of an Orlando automobile dealer, she didn’t think the relationship had much of a chance. The future Mrs. Holler came from a long line of automotive pioneers – her grandfather founded Allen Brothers, a Cadillac dealership in Connecticut in 1912 – and she wasn’t sure she wanted to stay immersed in the automotive world. But fate intervened.
Whether automobiles were just in their DNA or it was Roger Holler Jr.’s inherent charisma, their marriage, their partnership and their ongoing legacy continue to shape the Central Florida automotive market. Mrs. Holler recalls, “He was persistent and possessed the same natural sales ability that his grandfather had,” referring to William E. (Bill) Holler who helped turn Chevrolet into an iconic American brand.
75 Years and Counting
It was 75 years ago, in 1938, that the first Holler Chevrolet dealership opened in Orlando. But the Hollers’ involvement in automobiles began almost by chance. C.S. Mott of General Motors heard Bill Holler, then serving as the executive director for a YMCA, give such a stirring presentation that Mott hired him on the spot. Holler’s career at GM soared. As vice president of GM and general sales manager of Chevrolet from 1929 to 1945, his network of dealerships were responsible for selling over $12 billion worth of cars and in 1931, for the first time, Chevrolet passed Ford in sales.
To this day Mrs. Holler gets a gleam in her eye when she recalls her husband’s grandfather. “Henry Ford was famous for saying, ‘You can have a Ford in whatever color you want so long as it’s black.’ But Granddad was always pushing for innovation and ensuring the customers were being heard. Once, he went to the Chevrolet executives and tried to get them to add chrome to their cars, knowing consumers were looking for more flair in their reasonably priced automobiles, but they wouldn’t hear it. So he paid out of his own pocket to have a Chevy customized with chrome. When he unveiled it at the dealers’ show, there was pandemonium; everyone wanted one.
“He coined the motto we still go by today, ‘Never forget your customers – Never let your customers forget you,”’ emphasized the woman who today serves as the president and chairman of the board for the various Holler dealerships and land holdings, under the umbrella of Six Star Inc. The five outer stars on their logo represent Mrs. Holler, her late husband Roger Jr., and their three children, Roger III, Christopher (Chris) and Jill, who are vice presidents. But the large central star represents the spirit of William E. Holler, who also authored books on salesmanship, which have sold over 1 million copies.
The Journey Begins
In the first of many moves, which became indicative of the family’s business genius or intuition, William’s son, Roger Holler Sr., chose to have the dealership in Orlando, while his brother, Bill, opened the franchise in Sanford. At the time, Sanford was the inland port for the exploding citrus industry. Who imagined 75 years later Orlando would be a world-class city and an international tourist destination?
But it was his son, Roger Holler Jr., who built the business from one dealership to 11. As his grandfather had been one of the names associated with Chevrolet’s early growth, the name ‘Holler’ was synonymous with ‘Chevrolet’ for generations of Central Floridians.
“Roger was to follow the legacy of Bill Holler, his great-grandfather,” Judi recalls. “He would often say, ‘Everyone has to have a car to drive and there’s only so much land.’” So Roger Holler Jr. set about to capture both. More than just a great salesman and creative marketer, he was a student of the industry. He would make frequent road trips to successful dealerships throughout the south to study and interview those that were increasing their market share. On one such trip he visited John Hall’s dealership in Daytona. Before the appointment, he watched as the newly imported Honda CVCC’s were being unloaded from transport trucks.
America was changing its paradigm due to the first oil embargo and Roger Holler Jr. could see the writing on the wall. He canceled his appointment, drove home, discussed his idea with his wife, Judi, and called Honda, which at the time was seeking credible dealers. A Honda executive flew through the night to meet with Holler the next morning. The rest, as they say, is history.
It is that rare combination of entrepreneurial vision and passion, coupled with a finely honed business mind that made him successful.
Family friend Dennis Casey explains it like this: “Roger’s success had a lot to do with sorting things out to his satisfaction quickly. He once said, “Don’t stumble over nickels trying to get to the dollars.” Folks still recall one of the most famous advertising campaigns that Roger developed that proclaimed, “Save Dollars at Holler.”
John Schofield, a longtime friend and Winter Park businessman, was once quoted as saying, “Roger spends a great deal of time examining everything he does and does a lot of quantitative analysis. I have never known the man to move quickly into a deal for a deal’s sake.”
During these decades of growth and influence, Roger Holler Jr. had a strategic partner that nearly everyone in their business knew about but few outside were privy to – namely Judi. As she said, “Our kitchen table was sort of the unofficial boardroom.” No major decisions were made without her input and often direction was radically adjusted based on her insights.
Roger Holler Jr. was described by his son as “the consummate entrepreneur.” But it was Judi Holler who frequently kept that entrepreneurial zeal balanced. “I would often tell him, ‘Do you see those feet? Keep them on the ground.’”
Also, a new generation of Hollers was being mentored in the family trade. All of Roger and Judi Holler’s three children – Roger III, Chris and Jill – have business degrees and all possess an irrepressible love for automobiles. In addition, all worked various jobs at the dealerships growing up. Somehow that immersion in the business caused them to catch a passion for the trade, or perhaps the exposure simply ignited the gene that was already there.
However, no one anticipated something as disruptive as the sudden loss of the architect and builder of their burgeoning business when, at 63, Roger Holler Jr. died suddenly in February 2004. It was at this time that Mrs. Holler formally took the helm as president and chairman of the business. “We had to assure our customers and our associates that we were committed to the future – something Dad always emphasized,” explained Chris. Roger III added, “He, in many ways, prepared us for that, at least prepared us for what could happen. Namely that our business was desirable and there would be people who would try to take advantage of that time in our lives.”
“We also had years with him before he died, and Mom was an absolute rock,” Chris reflected looking at his mother. “You do what you have to do,” she replied, mentioning how William Holler used to describe not allowing negative circumstances to get you down, but to instead treat it “like water on a duck’s back.”
Mrs. Holler, who views her children with obvious love and understandable pride, explained the family plan: “All of my children are a major part of the direction of the company and vote on the major decisions.” Then her son Roger III chimed in, “Yes that is true, it is like the United Nations; we all have votes, but Mom has Security Council veto power,” at which the other family members all nodded and laughed. Roger III continued, “From the standpoint of Chris, Jill and me, we are extremely blessed; we still have Dad’s entrepreneurial vision to try new things, which Mom has always celebrated, but she has always been a source of accountability. She would ask, ‘What is the goal? What is the cost? Why are we doing this?’ This transition happened right before the recent economic storm, so we were extremely fortunate to have her leadership.”
Chris, who in addition to his responsibilities with the company took the time to earn his Ph.D. in psychology and is an accomplished sculptor, added, “She made the decision to batten down the hatches, to trim unproductive franchises and reduce our debt, so that we got down to a perfect size. Plus, we were able to retain all the employees we could support. In retrospect, the actions she took couldn’t have been better.”
New Day, New Direction
Not only was Holler able to weather the economic turbulence that began late in 2007, but according to Chris, Mrs. Holler’s efforts to produce a leaner profile and to move from just a transparent pricing structure to a one price sales format set the stage for the next era in the Holler automotive legacy. “It was a challenging decision to transition to the one price format; it was counter cultural, both to the consumer and to the sales force,” Mrs. Holler said. The Holler family’s dramatic shift to posting final prices on each car has resulted in an increase in sales.
The progressive adaptations the company made to make women have a comfortable car buying experience were just one example of her influence. “Women used to dread going to a dealership; at least a lot of women I talked to have expressed that re
servation. I’ve been proud for decades to hear from women how comfortable they are buying from us.” Again, like William E. Holler, they are visionaries in the automotive business.
“Some people expected to have to go through the haggling shell game when buying a car. But we utilized technology to analyze the market and to establish the market value of a car. We then determined what the best price would be and that is what we offer, in writing, to the buyer. Some are surprised, but we encourage them to compare and we show them how we arrive at the price based on the best and latest market data,” Roger III explained. Chris added, “We also offer to buy a customer’s used car, at a price we give them, whether they buy our car or not.”
In June 2009, just five years after Roger Holler Jr.’s death, a second tsunami hit the family – General Motors ended agreements with more than 1,000 dealerships nationwide. Since Holler’s relationship with Chevrolet went back 75 years, the idea that they would not be retained seemed unthinkable. After intense negotiations with GM, the family chose to move forward and never looked back. Many of Holler’s loyal customers were incensed about the way GM treated their favorite dealerships, but the family had been working on a plan, to which they immediately transitioned, seemingly without missing a beat.
The new prototype was “Driver’s Mart,” a used car “superstore” business concept, which also supplies service and maintenance to all makes and models – something not available at most competitors. Their timing during the recession was perfect, which along with their continually refined customer service and pricing policy, may well expand to multiple locations. As Roger III told newspapers at the time, “Our plan B worked so well, it’s now our plan A.”
Driver’s Mart is now in its fourth year, and to results-minded Mrs. Holler the data supports the decision. Roger III said, “When we started, 60 percent of our sales were GM products; now they account for 5 percent and last year we were up 100 percent over the previous year.”
This past February, the Hollers opened their all-new Audi North Orlando dealership in Sanford, but by all indications, this is only the beginning for the 75-year-old company.
Audi North Orlando
137 N. Oregon St.
Sanford [I-4 exit 101C at Rt. 46]
4000 W. Colonial Dr.
Orlando [across from the Central Florida Fairgrounds]
2075 N. Semoran Blvd. (S.R. 436)
Orlando [between University and Colonial]
1970 S.R. 436 (Semoran Blvd)
Winter Park. [just north of Aloma Ave]
Holler Honda Service Center
711 W. Fairbanks Ave.
Winter Park [near Denning Dr.]
2211 N. Semoran Blvd. (S.R. 436)
Orlando [between University and Colonial]
1150 N. Orlando Ave.
Winter Park [just north of Lee Road on 17-92]