Growing up with an ever-rotating cast of new cars in your driveway can be a formative experience for an impressionable young man. And so it proved for David R. Beylouni, who grew up in Danbury the son of a Volvo and Dodge dealer — and who today is president and co-owner with his brother Darren Beylouni of the Colonial Automobile Group, consisting of four independent dealerships.
“We knew our dad was doing something different than the other dads when we had 10 different cars in the driveway,” Beylouni said at his main office, Colonial Subaru at 89 Newtown Road. “I had a lot of different cars in high school and at one point my dad was driving a Rolls Royce Grey Ghost.”
The Beylouni family moved from Bridgeport to Danbury in 1948 when George Beylouni opened Danbury Confectionary at 59 Elm St. In 1962, he agreed to back his son Raymond, later joined by another son, George Jr., in the auto business; the brothers’ first dealership specialized in Jeeps.
By 1973, Raymond had graduated to Volvos and Dodges, but treatments for pituitary cancer sidelined him and by 1975, when he was able to return to work, he had lost the dealership and had to start over selling cars for other dealers. In 1991, he had again risen high enough to be awarded a Subaru franchise, but in his son David’s words, “had nowhere to put it.”
A practicing lawyer at the time, David didn’t have any interest in the auto business. However, he represented his father as they searched for a suitable location. Eventually they found Colonial Ford and the adjoining Colonial Honda at 126 Federal Road. Joining the team was another Beylouni son, Darren, who in addition to being David’s co-owner and partner is today the company’s vice president and general manager of operations.
“Ford was really the foundational company for the family going forward,” David said. “At the time they were looking for young attorneys and accountants to oversee operations, instead of continuing promoting salesmen up the ladder. The fact that I had more or less grown up in the business helped.”
As vice president/general manager under his father, David began working on a deal to acquire Colonial Ford from then-owner John D’Elia, completing the acquisition in 1992. D’Elia sold the Honda franchise to United Auto Group in 1993 and the Beylounis established Colonial Subaru on the lot in its stead.
Colonial benefited from being one of the few Subaru dealers in the Northeast at the time. The Beylounis then decided to take a chance on Mitsubishi in 1999. “It was a very hot and cold company for the five-and-a-half years we had it,” David said. “Sales were off dramatically by then, but then we were approached by Mazda, which is highly unusual — a dealer or potential dealer usually approaches the manufacturer, not the other way around.”
The Beylounis sold both lines at 100 Federal Road for about a year before divesting of Mitsubishi. In 2014, they expanded further by acquiring Smith-Cairns Subaru and relaunching it as Brewster Subaru at 1021 Route 22 in Brewster, N.Y. At roughly the same time the decision was made to split up Ford and Subaru — “We just didn’t have any room to expand” at the Federal Road location, Beylouni said — resulting in the acquisition of the former Robert Buick-Pontiac on Newtown Road, a victim of General Motors’ bankruptcy in 2009. “Thirty-five percent of the dealers in the greater Danbury area went out of business during the recession,” he noted.
The Robert property was razed and replaced with a new, $9 million facility that is the largest in the Northeast. A $75,000, two-sided fireplace in the middle of the showroom exudes a sense of warmth, as does its bright and comfortably spacious interior.
Colonial Subaru’s 30,000-square-foot building is on 2.87 acres, has 20 car service and maintenance bays and 90 employees. Colonial Ford’s three buildings total about 40,000 square feet on three acres, with 26 bays and 90 employees. Colonial Mazda, perhaps reflecting that manufacturer’s comparatively small sales — as of January, it had a 1.9 percent market share in the U.S. compared with Subaru’s 3.8 percent, Ford’s 15 percent and leader GM’s 17.2 percent — operates out of an 18,000-square-foot building on five acres with 10 bays and 35 employees. The Brewster operation encompasses an 18,000-square-foot building on two acres, with 12 bays and 33 employees.
In the midst of the Brewster acquisition and Danbury moves, Raymond — whose title was chairman of the board — died, leaving David “numb.”
“We’d been working more or less side by side for about 25 years. But he taught us that this business is all about the customer and that’s what we’ve continued to do,” Beylouni said.
“This is probably the most consumer-driven business in the country, I think. They’re highly educated when they come in, thanks to all the information that’s available out there. And this business isn’t just about sales — it’s about advising the customer about what they’re looking for, answering their questions. We’re here to accommodate them.”
Colonial also has an impressive record when it comes to its employees: According to Beylouni, the average car salesman lasts a year on the job, while Colonial’s staff stays for an average of 17 years.
Such an approach, he said, has helped Colonial Subaru notch 22 straight years as Connecticut’s top seller by volume and to place within the top 20 nationwide for the past 20 years. The Mazda operation is also the state’s top volume dealer, Beylouni said, while Brewster Subaru’s sales have grown by 65 percent over the past two years.
As for whether a third generation of Beylounis is waiting in the wings to take over Colonial, he said he wasn’t sure.
“Darren’s and my kids are still pretty young yet,” he said. “They’re a good 15, 20 years away from making that kind of decision. What we want most is for them to get the right education so they can deal with the challenges they’ll face as adults.”