Critz Auto Group President Talks Succession, Community Legacy

October 22, 2014

By Julia Ritchey, Savannah Morning News

Only 13 percent of family-owned businesses make it to the third generation, but if Critz Auto Group president Dale Critz Jr. has anything to say about it, there will be a fourth.

Critz Jr. and his father, Dale Critz Sr., spoke Wednesday about their family’s 75-year-old auto dealership and legacy during the quarterly Business in Savannah luncheon at the Savannah Morning News headquarters on Chatham Parkway.

It was January 1939 when H. Dale Critz opened Quality Motors on the corner of West Broad Street, now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and Bay Street after moving from Little Rock, Ark.

Originally a Buick and Pontiac dealer, over the years the company has shed brands and adopted new ones, now selling Buick, GMC, BMW and Mercedes at two locations on Abercorn Street and Stephenson Avenue.

Critz Sr. said when his father was looking for his own dealership in the late ’30s, he was offered his pick of two General Motors franchises, one in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the other in Savannah. According to Critz Jr., there is still some debate as to why he chose Savannah.

“Dad always told me that my grandfather said that he chose Savannah because you didn’t have to be too good to be good,” said Critz Jr., prompting laughter in the room. “I think what he really meant was you don’t have to be too good to live good in Savannah … and I’m certainly glad he chose Savannah over St. Petersburg.”

Being an only child, Critz Sr. said it was natural for him to join his dad after graduating from Duke University in 1957, encouraging H. Dale to acquire German automakers in the ’70s to expand their dealership to include more luxury brands.

By 1985, Critz Sr.’s son, Dale Critz Jr., was ready to join the business as well, ensuring the business would last through a third generation.

“It’s lucky that I like this business, but it’s also pretty lucky that I only have one sibling that didn’t have any interest in the business,” Critz Jr. said. “I will say education is the key.”

He said while his father attended General Motors Institute to learn more about the car business, he went to get an MBA at the University of Texas, giving him additional skills to lead Critz Auto Group through the economic ups and downs of the last two decades.

He said he has hopes his daughter, a senior at Savannah Country Day School, may join the family business to lead a fourth generation — joining an even rarer 3 percent of businesses who make it that long.

“Laura is my secret weapon for making it into the fourth generation,” he said. “She’s going to Wake Forest University next year … plans to study business, we’re trying to talk her into doing the CPA program.”

Critz Jr. said his family’s long-standing commitment to the community through their involvement in Rotary Club, the United Way and Critz Tybee Run Fest has also been the secret to their success. He said customer service and community support were key to longevity in the automotive business.

Wednesday’s luncheon was sponsored by HunterMaclean, Hancock Askew, Armstrong State University and Abshire Public Relations in addition to Business in Savannah.