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Towne Automotive buys Schmitt's Audi Volkswagen

Towne Automotive Group is growing again, acquiring the family-owned Schmitt's Audi Volkswagen dealership in Lancaster to add two new franchises and brands to its existing portfolio.

Towne CEO Frank Downing Jr. did not say how much his group was paying to acquire the Schmitt's business, located at 5255 Genesee St. The acquisition, announced to employees this week, is expected to close Jan. 16. All of Schmidt's 50 employees are expected to stay on, and Towne is keeping the 40,000-square-foot building.

"We are very excited to expand our Western New York presence," Downing said. "Both organizations are excited about the acquisition."

Schmitt's, a fourth-generation dealership, has operated at its current five-acre location for over 90 years, evolving its brands over that time. The business generates about $35 million a year in sales, about one-tenth of Towne's business, Downing said.

"They've built a great foundation for us to build on," Downing said. "It's got a long history at that address, a lot of long-term employees, a good reputation, and a lot of strong customer satisfaction."

Founded in 1969, Towne will now have 17 brands across 10 dealership locations, with a little more than 400 employees. In recent years, the company opened a new Maserati dealership in Orchard Park, acquired the Steve Baldo Chevrolet Buick Cadillac dealership in North Collins, built a new facility in Clarence for both Maserati and Alfa Romeo, and added BMW motorcycles to its BMW dealership in Clarence.

Towne now has premium franchises locally for BMW, Audi, Maserati, Alfa-Romeo, Lincoln and Cadillac, and a volume business in Volkswagen. The purchase also continues the dealer group's push from its Southtown roots into the Northtowns, where it has the BMW, Mini, Maserati and Alfa-Romeo locations.

Towne plans to build a new standalone Audi building at a different location that it will purchase in the future to grow that business.

"We think the brands are stronger separate," he said.

That will lead to growth in employees for Audi, while the Volkswagen franchise will remain in Lancaster.

Downing said Towne had been pursuing the Schmitts "for a long time," and had "let the Schmitt family know we'd like to do business with them."

"The Audi franchise is very similar to BMW," he said. "It does really well in a lot of markets, and we see it would be a great compliment."

So when Tim Schmitt called Downing in March to propose a "win-win" deal, it only took about a month to reach an agreement and basic terms. The last eight months have involved attorneys to iron out details and discussions with the manufacturers.

"It's been a pleasure to work with them. They've been fantastic throughout the whole process," Downing said of the Schmitt family. "We wanted to buy, and they wanted to sell to us. It's been fair and friendly."

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