Cincinnati's newest car dealer aims to build a regional hub -- one Mercedes at a time

Bernie Moreno sees "huge potential" in Ft Mitchell

FORT MITCHELL, Ky. -- Cleveland area car dealer Bernie Moreno is looking to lay down roots in Cincinnati.

“We want to build another regional hub,” Moreno said Friday in an exclusive interview in his newest dealership, Mercedes-Benz of Fort Mitchell at I-75 and Dixie Highway in Northern Kentucky.

Moreno is the CEO of Collection Auto Group, which operates 18 dealership franchises in Northeast Ohio that sell about 10,000 cars a year and generate $500 million in annual revenue. He invested $20 million to replace the former USA Hotel site in Fort Mitchell with a tech-heavy dealership, which is the world’s first to be completed illuminated by LED lighting. Service technicians use Google Glass wearable computers to determine which parts need work and how to access them, according to Automotive News.

The dealership held its grand opening Oct. 17 with Fort Mitchell Mayor Chris Wiest praising Moreno as a businessman who kept his promise to surrounding neighbors. Already, Moreno counts Northern Kentucky business titans Bill Butler and Wayne Carlisle as friends. In fact, he says they steered him to the Fort Mitchell location. Moreno bought a condo at Covington's Ascent building so he could spend about three days a week in the Fort Mitchell dealership as he builds the business.

Also in Moreno's professional network: Northern Kentucky University President Geoffrey Mearns, who was a Cleveland State University administrator when Moreno was a trustee. Kenton County Airport Board member Nathan Smith became a Moreno admirer because of how he handled neighbor concerns when developing his dealership.

"He basically immersed himself in the area. He is very well connected," said Smith, a Fort Mitchell resident and partner in SSK Communities of Erlanger. "I was skeptical when he gave me the time frame for a new Mercedes dealership adjacent to my home. But he works really hard at it."

Has Moreno's networking helped his new enterprise? In its first 17 days, Moreno claims the Fort Mitchell dealership has sold 80 cars.

“If you look back at the history of Mercedes-Benz in this market, the most cars ever sold in one month is 100 cars,” he said. “We think there’s a huge opportunity here.”

Moreno thinks the Fort Mitchell dealership can sell more than 200 cars a month and generate $100 million a year. He won’t be specific about future dealerships, but says he’ll look to buy or start from scratch local franchises. He hopes to build as large an auto cluster in Cincinnati as he built in Cleveland over the last nine years.

Cincinnati's largest dealer groups, Performance Automotive Network and Jeff Wyler Automotive Family Inc., each sell more than 20,000 cars a year, according to the Cincinnati Business Courier. Selling 200 cars a month would put Moreno in the top 20. Selling 10,000 cars a year here would put him in the top five.

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