By Melody Birkett
The Horne name is ubiquitous in
Arizona. East Valley residents have most likely traveled down Horne Road. There are 11 Horne family car dealerships in Arizona, including Horne Kia in Gilbert.
“My grandchildren are sixth generation Hornes in the valley,” said Robert C. Horne, founder of Horne Auto Group. “My great-grandfather, Henry Horne, settled here in Arizona in 1880. Horne Road located in Mesa is named after our family.”
Robert C. Horne and his wife, Cheryl, have eight children and 21 grandchildren.
Following college, Horne got his CPA license and went to work as a partner at Henry and Horne CPA, the largest regional accounting firm in Arizona for 14 years. It was founded by Marvin Henry and Robert C. Horne’s father, Gail B. Horne.
After his father retired, Horne went into real estate for a few years and then became the chief financial officer at Chapman Auto Group. That’s when the car bug hit him.
“I really enjoyed the car business and decided I wanted to get into it if I could,” Horne said.
In 1991, he bought the Chevrolet store in Show Low and from then on grew the business.
Sons Aaron, Adam, Andrew and Michael and son-in-law Martin Jones work in the family business. In addition to Tempe and Gilbert, Horne Auto Group has
dealerships in Apache Junction, Show Low, Globe and Nogales, plus two used-car stores and one large body shop.
Horne never dreamed the business would grow to this size.
“When I started, I really wanted to have a family business where my sons could work in it if they wanted to,” said Horne. “I always loved Show Low/Pinetop, and I always said if I could find a way to earn a living there, I would. Once we bought the store in Show Low, we lived there for 18 years.”
“As we grew, the majority of the business began to grow in the Phoenix metropolitan area,” Horne added. “My family started moving down here to run it. And since I have five sons in the business, we can keep on growing.”
Each family member has a defined role that contributes to the group’s success.
“I’m involved in the acquisitions and the development of the group, buying stores and growing the business,” Horne said.
“We have a philosophy in our business, and always have, that if it’s not legal, moral or ethical, we will not do it. So we have a lot of good people who believe in the same philosophy that work for us. And we’ve grown to have a very good reputation in the business as an honest car company.”
Horne attributes the success of the dealerships to integrity and a great reputation.
“I think the main thing is reputation. I’ve always believed it takes you 20 years to build your reputation and 20 minutes to destroy it,” he said.
Good employees also contribute to success. “This is a people business, and you have to have good quality employees, and that has helped us attract more good people – good honest people. With our good reputation, treating people well, and honest employees, we have the key to success.”
Horne Auto Group employs about 350 people around the state, a couple of whom have been with the company for 25 years. The policy is to try to hire and promote from within.
“I think we’ve created an environment that is employee friendly,” said Horne. “And if somebody’s looking for employment, they’ll talk to another employee, and that’s where we get the recommendations to come here. Our employees, overall, are happy to be with us.”
When customers walk into a Horne dealership, “they can expect to be greeted warmly, to have a salesman determine what their needs are, to find a vehicle of their choice and take them on a test drive. The salesman will make sure that they want it, and after they’re completely satisfied that this is the car they want, they’ll be able to purchase it at a price that’s satisfactory to them.”
Keeping up with technology has also helped with success.
“I believe we have state-of-the-art electronic data programs that help,” Horne said. “A lot of stores are lagging in that area. You have to be vigilant every day to see what’s new and improving.”
The internet has also changed the car-buying and selling business.
“At least 75 percent of people look on the internet to see what they want before they call,” said Horne. “We have an internet department at every store. You can get an answer in a few minutes if you’re on the internet and want to inquire about a certain vehicle.”
However, Horne said, the basics of the car business haven’t changed much at all.
“People want to come in, they want to touch the car, they want to drive it, they want to smell it, they want to be able to experience the feel of a new car,” he said. “And then most of them want to negotiate a purchase price. It’s all the same thing. You have to be the best at treating the customers properly and creating value in the car and making sure they’re happy with the deal they have.”
While Horne admits he has several cars he likes to drive, he won’t divulge his favorite.
“I have found that almost all of the models today are almost equal quality,” Horne said. “So you can find something nice in every brand if you want to. It’s just a matter of the relationship you have with the dealer and the ongoing service, parts and whether you have a good experience.”
What’s the most popular color? Traditionally, white vehicles make up as much as 40 percent of the market.
After 26 years, the Horne family wants to continue the tradition of giving great service to customers.
“Success does not come easy,” Horne said. “But if you dedicate the time to making sure your customers are satisfied, you will build a reputation of honesty and integrity, which goes a long way in the car business.”