Sharpe Bringing Jaguars To Town

August 16, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — It took George Sharpe Sr. five years to get Jaguars parked alongside the Buicks, BMWs and Land Rovers on his dealership lot, a prolonged effort that he feels was well worth the time and expense he put into it.

The result is that he will begin selling Jaguars before Christmas, becoming only the fourth seller of XJs, XKs, S-types and X-types in Michigan, and the first in West Michigan.

As a precursor to that big December event, Sharpe Buick/BMW will officially become The Sharpe Collection in mid-October. Sharpe said the name change will better reflect his product line and will take effect about seven months before an $8 million renovation of his dealership at 1010 28th St. SE is completed.

Sharpe is expanding his business to accommodate the sales growth of his brands and to make room for the Jaguars. The work will add 100,000 square feet to the dealership in new showrooms, service departments, a body shop and a parts area.

“I chose to expand on this site because I feel we are centrally located to our owner base. We’re just 10 minutes from downtown. We’re 10 minutes from Cascade and maybe about 15 minutes from the South Beltline,” said Sharpe, who celebrated his 20th anniversary of selling cars locally earlier this month.

“I think that over the years we’ve had maybe 100,000 people purchase cars from us in the last 20 years,” he added.

Integrated Architecture designed the expansion and Erhardt Construction is managing the project.

Sharpe got the word last fall that Jaguar awarded him a franchise, after beginning talks with the British automaker in 1996. But he chose to keep the news quiet until this month.

“I just wanted to fill in our niche with premium automobiles; Buick, BMW and Land Rover, and Jaguar would be a perfect fit for those brands,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a full complement of cars that represent the Jaguar brand available for customers to test drive at all times.

“I think Jaguar just wanted to expand into the Grand Rapids market. I think they wanted to have someone who had the customer-satisfaction ratings that met their gateway criteria. We were able to meet those customer-satisfaction requirements.”

Jaguar evaluated Sharpe’s satisfaction ratings for three years before making a commitment to him. Prices for the Jaguar line range from $30,600 for the X-Type 2.5 to $86,975 for the sporty XKR convertible.

When Sharpe started talks with Jaguar, the economy was in better shape than it is now. But he said today’s tough economy hasn’t made him regret his decision to go ahead with the upscale imports.

“Not at all. I’ve sold cars when the interest rate was 25 percent and unemployment was 26 percent. So, I think these are pretty good times for us right now with unemployment at 6.5 percent and the prime rate at 4.5,” he said.

Sharpe and Al Serra bought what became the Buick/BMW dealership in 1982. He added a stand-alone BMW dealership five years later and the Land Rover line 10 years after that. Sharpe purchased Serra’s share of the business in 1997, and became sole owner, president and CEO of the dealership — quite a career climb for a guy who started out in 1963 by washing cars at a dealer in his hometown of Pontiac.

Sharpe also is vice chairman of the Saint Mary’s Mercy Medical Center board, and he spent six years serving on the Catholic Elementary Schools board.

With the Jaguar portion of the expansion opening in December, Sharpe said the new BMW showroom should be completed by March and the Buick done by August. By then, about another 20 sales and service personnel will be working at The Sharpe Collection.

“We are very excited about this project because it will provide environments that are distinct to each of our brands, but will also pull them together as The Sharpe Collection,” he said. “This expansion will accommodate the growth of our Buick, BMW and Land Rover brands, as well as make room for the new Jaguar dealership.”           

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