Sarasota entrepreneur Jesse Biter likes to dream big, though the gazelle-like growth with his latest venture even startled him a little bit. Biter, along with local auto dealership executive Matt Buchanan, founded Dealers United late last year. The company's goal: to build a nationwide network of auto dealers that would have combined buying power with vendors. The network, in turn, would provide dealerships access to exclusive deals, on everything from copy machines to search engine optimization consultants.
Dealers United officially got going earlier this year, with three employees and $1 million in startup capital. Biter figured a victory would be if the company hit 2,500 dealers in the network in the first year. Dealers United hit that mark, and has since surpassed 4,000 dealers. One of those dealerships is Sarasota Ford, where Buchanan, son of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, is the operations manager.
The payroll at Dealers United, meanwhile, has grown more than six-fold, to 19 employees, with several more projected hires over the next few months. The employees work with the network of auto dealers in customer support. “Within the past year we've seen a total change in the industry,” says Christian Ziegler, the firm's chief operating officer, hired in October 2011. “For the first time ever, there is a company that stands by the dealers.”
The Dealers United system runs similar to Groupon. The firm finds a service common to many dealers, then it solicits vendors for a deal. Network members decide if they want to buy into the deal, and if enough members sign on, the deal tips and is open to all members. There are no fees for dealers to join the network. Dealers United makes money off a percentage of the business it brings to vendors.
Dealers United recently moved into new space, in the Hub building in downtown Sarasota. Biter, who sold a $16 million auto sales software business in 2010, bought the building last year. Biter says Dealers United has much more potential for super growth than his previous business. “My bucket list is to take a company public,” Biter tells Coffee Talk. “This could definitely be that company.”