By Alex Christodoulides
Bendell and his brother, Harold Bendell, got into the car business in 1972 while Bendell was working on his bachelor's degree in economics at Queens College, by running a repair shop in Brooklyn. “We put our names on it as a side business. From there we ended up turning it into a used car business, and then to leasing, taxis, police cars,” Bendell said.That's the fast-forward version, glossing over the 1985 purchase of the first dealership that would be the cornerstone of Major Auto and the purchase of subsequent dealerships in Long Island, the Bronx, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Nor did he at first mention the company's listing on the New York Stock Exchange, the aggressive advertising campaigns, the $400 million in annual sales, his involvement in multiple business organizations or his exploration of markets in China and Russia.”December '85 was when I bought the dealership. There were two owners and one passed away, and they were doing about $10 million in sales,” Bendell said. In 1895 the business had 25 employees, according to information filed with the Securities and Exchanges Commission, and by 2006 it had grown to 513.His method for boosting business there sounded simple: Increase sales without increasing overhead.”In the first two years we had it up to about $150 million in sales. They didn't have a big used car business, didn't do leasing,” he said. “We really advertised to get the business up there. He didn't have the capital to build the business up. We did.”Bendell grew up in Brooklyn, but Queens – where he moved as a young man — made more business sense, he said.”We started in Brooklyn, but after we acquired the Chevy dealership, we decided it was easier to operate out of Queens. It's more central, and it has automotive row” along Northern Boulevard, Bendell said.And the wheels kept turning.Major Auto became a publicly traded company in 1998. “When we went public in '98 we had five franchises: Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep/Eagle and Subaru,” he said. “We were doing $175 million in sales at the time we went public, and we kept on acquiring more dealerships. Up in the Bronx we have a Nissan dealership. Between my brother and myself we have two Nissan stores on Long Island. They also have Kia, Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealerships, a Dodge store in New Jersey and in Pennsylvania they sell Mitsubishis and Hyundais,” he said.Reinvesting profits into the business has worked well for Bendell and his brother.”We're in the top 100 [dealership businesses] in the country, with over $400 million in sales. We have the largest franchise dealership for pre-owned vehicles in the United States,” he said.Bendell has stayed close to his Queens roots throughout, serving on the foundation board at his alma mater, Queens College; getting involved with Queens Hospital Center; and serving as a member of various borough chambers of commerce. And like he consolidated the various dealerships into the behemoth known as Major World, Bendell seeks to connect organizations so they function better and can help each other. “We always have these major boroughwide chambers [of commerce], but all the small chambers – the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, the Rockaway Chamber – competed with each other. So we've created affiliations and member-sharing services” among the smaller organizations, Bendell said.He also hopes to help current students when he returns to his alma mater to speak this week at Queens College's upcoming business forum. “I think the college has the right idea doing the business forums, bringing students together with successful businesspeople and letting them ask questions,” Bendell said.Bruce Bendell is to be the keynote speaker at the Queens College Business Forum's breakfast event Feb. 29 at 8 a.m., sponsored by the Queens Chamber of Commerce and TimesLedger, among others.