Southern California auto dealership group plans Santa Rosa expansion

Hello Auto Group, which has six automobile dealerships in Southern California, is looking to expand to the northern end of the state.

The Valencia-based company purchased a 2.17-acre property at 3019 Santa Rosa Ave. on March 26 for $2.2 million, according to public records. The seller was an affiliate of the Lamperti family who have owned nearby Tony’s Toys & Trucks used-car dealership since 1989.

Hello Auto Group has submitted plans to the city of Santa Rosa to open a Mazda dealership for new and used vehicles. CEO Karl Schmidt would like to open it in 18 months, starting with 40 people working there and adding another 10 to 15 when the service center is fully operational.

He forecasts sales of $50 million to $60 million annually.

The company currently has revenues of $375 million to $400 million annually on sales of around 9,000 vehicles and employs just under 300.

Schmidt said he became acquainted with the Santa Rosa market while visiting a friend in Sonoma County regularly.

“It’s not the easiest place to get to from Southern California, but there are flights into Santa Rosa and San Francisco,” Schmidt said.

After growing up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, Schmidt eventually ended up in auto sales. In 1989, he joined Minnesota-based Morrie’s Automotive Group, currently ranked No. 80 in used-car sales by Automotive News, as an assistant used-auto sales manager. In 2009 he became CEO, and in 2015 he brought in a New York investment group to purchase it.

He left Morrie’s as CEO in early 2019 and by that December had started Hello Auto Group in Valencia with a Kia dealership and what’s now a Mazda dealership. Now, the group has three Mazda stores, a Kia location open now and one coming in Calabasas, and two Subaru locations. And the company has opened a site in San Diego.

Schmidt said a goal of Hello Auto Group is to improve the car-buying experience by reducing the haggling between customer, salesperson and dealership management that the industry has been known for over decades. Toward that, the company has incorporated sales software that includes dynamic pricing based on what are said to be the best prices in a market at a given time.

The Lampertis could not be reached for comment on the sale of 3019 Santa Rosa.

Steven Skinner of W Commercial listed the property for sale, and Kevin Doran of Keegan & Coppin Co. Inc. represented Hello Auto Group in the purchase.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Reach him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

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