by Clint Burgess

There are levels of excellence only achieved at certain points in time and by so few individuals that the when they do occur, it's almost as if it was some otherworldly force that willed them into existence: Lance Armstrong winning six Tours, Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals and Dave Smith Motors in Kellogg, Idaho, being the No. 1 Dodge dealership in the world.

It is a paradox to equate a company that does hundreds of millions of dollars worth of sales with a town like Kellogg. The dealership is high-profile in a low-profile kind of town. Dave Smith opened his first dealership in 1965 in Wallace; five years later, he took his business to the thriving metropolis of Kellogg -- at that time, a boomtown due to all the silver mining going on in the Silver Valley. Miners were doing well and buying Dodge trucks. After the boom was over, Kellogg was left in an economic rut that would not soon be easily overcome. Smith didn't pull up stakes, though; he invested all his profits and acquired more dealerships with an eye on building an empire.

Cut to the present, and things are much different in Kellogg than they were 20 years ago. "We're a 25-year overnight success," says Kevin Hunter, one of four owners of the Dave Smith empire. Hunter has been instrumental along with his other partners -- all Smith family members: CEO Ken Smith, Eric Smith and Michelle Dahl-Smith. Hunter professes "a commitment to the vision -- hard work, dedication and determination." He follows with "you better like what you do."

This passion drives the dealership. "When we say we are hassle-free, we better be hassle-free, says Hunter. "You can't tell a customer you're hassle-free and not live up to that. Our reputation is paramount, because in this business, if you tick somebody off, you risk your reputation." Of course, all this would just be talk if it wasn't backed up by some of the biggest numbers in the business.

The secret to their success? Nothing you wouldn't expect: volume, volume, volume. This dealership, they say, turns over so many vehicles on a daily basis that they can afford to sell them at discounted prices.

The dealership consists of multiple lots all through downtown Kellogg. The inventory and selection are immense, suggesting that if there is anything that can be done to four wheels and an engine, it can be done at this dealership. There's a lot of hype surrounding Dave Smith Motors, but the facts are there to support it: It is the world's largest Dodge dealership, the Northwest's largest GM dealer and the world's largest Internet dealership.

Smith has had big success on the Web -- in fact, Dave Smith had a Web site before even Dodge had one. And when the manufacturer wanted to establish a presence in cyberspace, guess who they called for help? Dave Smith Motors.

Publication date: 10/21/04

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