RIDING IN STYLE
By Chris Wadsworth
Photos by Andrew Sample
Sometimes it seems Ashburn is a mix of money and modesty. For every million-dollar home or steak place offering $75 ribeyes, there’s an IHOP or a McDonald’s.
But sometimes Ashburn can’t help but lean in on the luxury. That’s the case with a car dealership that opened in May on Russell Branch Parkway near Topgolf. It’s the new home of the Exclusive Automotive Group, the region’s only vendor of Aston Martins and Bentleys, as well as super car brands Koenigsegg and Karma.
New cars start in the $150,000 range and go up from there, passing the half a million mark for a custom-built vehicle shipped from Europe. Regardless of the size of their pocketbook, even an average car enthusiast can’t help but be wowed by some of these stunning vehicles.
Exclusive Automotive Group, or EAG, started about 10 years ago in Fairfax County. It was created by a group of Aston Martin owners who were, of course, big fans of the famous British automaker. When the Aston Martin franchise in the greater Washington area became available, they decided who better to sell the brand than them.
They went up against several large area auto dealers and managed to impress the Aston Martin folks with their straightforward business plan. Against the odds, they got the franchise.
“We had this private dinner with them, and at the end of the dinner, they said it’s yours and you have 60 days to get a showroom, to get a general manager, to get a line of credit, a floor plan and to be in business,” said Bill Shawn, one of the founding partners. “And in 60 days we did it.”
Not that Aston Martin didn’t hedge its bets.
“We learned later that they were so concerned about us … that they appointed one of the established dealers in town to be our backup in case we fell on our face,” Shawn said with a laugh.
Fortunately, the dealership thrived, new brands were added and now EAG has made the biggest move in its history – literally and figuratively – by uprooting its Vienna showroom and relocating to Ashburn.
Ashburn Magazine interviewed Shawn about why the dealership chose Ashburn, its new facility along Route 7 and what it’s like selling cars that many folks dream about. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
What was the impetus to move the EAG dealership to Loudoun County and to Ashburn specifically?
A: “We saw the economic action and the economic growth and the degree of prosperity. And our brands, obviously, are intricately correlated with prosperity and business success. We had an increasing number of clients coming from Loudoun County.”
Ashburn does have a lot of economic growth, but so do other areas of the greater Washington market.
“It’s true we can be anywhere. Our franchises are exclusive. We are the only dealer of any of our brands anywhere between Philadelphia and Charlotte. So literally we could have been in Maryland, the District, anywhere. But we really liked Loudoun and we really liked Ashburn and what was going on in Ashburn with the degree of high-end development and the degree of entrepreneurism and successful people. And we found what we thought was just an absolute choice parcel of land that was perfect for us.”
In your company’s announcement of the new dealership, it referred to the “car culture” in the Ashburn area. What did that refer to?
“There are lots and lots of car activities – everything from ‘Cars and Coffee’ events and dealers having car events, to show-and-tell events. People obviously drive their cars and appreciate their cars. Loudoun still has enough free and open space where people can enjoy the drive – it’s not all congested with traffic and traffic lights. As they say in Los Angeles, you are what you drive. There are a lot of people [here] who are successful and want to show it.”
Ashburn is obviously known as an affluent community. When you are selling vehicles with six-figure prices, that must have been a factor in your decision to come here.
“It’s just doing your homework. You are going to go where your products can be afforded and can be appreciated. There’s another element to that too – what I like to call the velocity of money. We are dealing with lots of entrepreneurs and successful people who have made their money and have achieved success themselves and – as a result – they are ready, willing and able to consume and to buy the nice things they want because they have earned them.”
Who is a typical EAG customer?
“When we first opened up, I thought we would be sort of getting British toffs [Editor’s Note: upper crust folks] – part of my childhood was in England so I can directly relate to that – but that’s not our typical customer at all. It’s really hard to say there is a prototypical customer that we have, but I think the one thing I see in common – that spans any cultures, any races, religions – is that these are successful people, people who have achieved something, and are also smart and sophisticated.”
What are some of the challenges of selling ultra-luxury cars?
“Our sales people honestly – it’s no secret – sometimes get intimidated because they are dealing with very successful people who know how to negotiate. We are dealing with not only accomplished people, but smart people who know what they want and know how to negotiate. Many of them have built businesses and some have sold them. Some have top positions in business, in government and academia. But they all are smart and know how to drive the deal. That’s one of the big challenges we have. Just because somebody has money to be able to afford one of our cars doesn’t mean they are going to pay what the sticker is.”
Tell us about the location on Russell Branch along Route 7 – why was that location chosen?
“It’s a great location. The only thing it doesn’t have is a direct off ramp from Route 7, but other than that, it has everything. And it does have great visibility. You should go by it at night. We are elevated and we have a lot of window space, including a lot along Route 7 and, at night, we have lit up the facility, so the cars are on display for however many hundreds of thousands of cars and impressions go by there every day. You can’t pay for that kind of visibility. It’s better than a billboard.”
What about being farther from the D.C. and Arlington/Alexandria customers?
“Early on, we agonized over moving too far away from the District and that we would lose some customers. But that has not been a problem because what we found is our brands are a destination. We have people come out for the day just to hang out.”
Building a huge new showroom from the ground up must have allowed you to make some improvements on your previous location.
“Ten years ago, we started out in a refurbished Lincoln-Mercury facility that had been built in the 1960s. So, when we got the opportunity to buy the land and to design a building – yeah, we put our experience to work, and it … allowed for a lot of upgrades. We really went all out with it. It’s very 21st century.”
What are some examples of these new and improved features?
“Our service facility is not only fully air-conditioned, which is pretty unusual in the car business, but all our equipment – everything from balancing tire alignment to heavy sophisticated engine overhaul equipment – it’s all new, it’s all state-of-the-art. It looks absolutely beautiful as well. The service area, in particular, looks like a surgical ward.”
Is that something customers look for – a spic-and-span service bay?
“Stuff like this is important to guys like me – car guys, petrol heads. When I bought my first Aston, before we had the dealership, I insisted on meeting the techs – the mechanics – first and seeing their facility so I knew how my car was going to be treated. My wife, who is a great lady,said, ‘We’ve had four children and you’ve never asked to meet the doctor. Yet you do that for your cars.’ (Laughing.) You want your cars to be well-treated – that’s all I can say.”
It’s not just new cars, correct? You have used luxury cars, which sounds like an oxymoron, but of course, it’s not.
“We tend to have the best of the best in used cars as well. We often get in everything from Ferraris to Rolls Royces to high-end Mercedes, literally everything. So, when a customer comes and wants a car, and we don’t have it… we are usually able to source it and find exactly what they want.”
What does the future hold for EAG?
“We want to make our mark. We want to be part of the community. We want to evangelize our cars and see as many of them as we can driving around in the neighborhoods and on the highways and we want to expand and grow as we do.”
Are new additional brands in the works?
“I’m not at liberty to say, but we have discussions all the time with various brands, and we will probably – in the next year or two – add a brand or two, but we are very particular in what we add.”
Finally, can people come and see the cars even if they aren’t in the market for one? Or do you prefer serious shoppers only?
“We always appreciate serious shoppers, but my partners and I are true ‘car guys’ so we completely understand how people may enjoy seeing our incredible cars in person. In fact, like many kids and teenagers today, when we were growing up, we loved seeing great cars and dreamed of the day when we could own one. So, we always appreciate enthusiastic visitors who share our passion and our respect for our cars.”
FAST FACTS ABOUT EXCLUSIVE AUTOMOTIVE GROUP IN ASHBURN
Partners: Mike Bratti, Ian Carter, John Metcalf and William Shawn
Official Opening: June 25, 2022
Size: 42,000 square feet
Service bays: 18
Number of cars onsite: New – 20-30 (many of EAG’s cars are custom ordered and not part of the onsite inventory); pre-owned: 60-70
Price ranges: New – $200,000 to $5 million; pre-owned – $60,000 to $350,000