Shelves sag under the weight of sports trophies and awards.
Walls are heavy with photos of baseball and swimming victory scenes. In a wooden frame, three large gold medals scatter light pouring in from the playing field just outside a glass wall.
Despite its appearance, however, this is not the office of a successful college athletic director. It belongs to John W. Koons Jr., head of the area's largest new-car sales network and president of one of the nation's largest Chevrolet dealerships. It's a place where the two lives of John W. Koons Jr. converge.
From the looks of it, his "every morning and weekends summertime" career as a boys' baseball coach seems to be most important. More than gentle nudging is required to get "the coach" to discuss cars.
And there's not a clue to be seen here that Koons' office is also the nerve center of an organization that oversees 11 separate and thriving new-car dealerships that sell more than 3,000 vehicles a month. But the glass wall to the right of his desk gives Koons a crow's nest view of the playing field below -- a huge showroom filled with shiny new Chevrolets.
That's not important, though. John W. Koons Jr. wants to talk about kids and sports.
"Whatever you put into the community gets returned with dividends," says the eldest offspring of John W. Koons Sr., or "King Koons, The World's Largest Ford Dealer," as he was known before his death three years ago.
"I don't like to spend a lot of time sitting behind a desk, although I love the auto business. It's in my blood," he says. "But the paperwork, well, I hate it. So I spend my summers coaching baseball and the rest of my time helping out with other community projects."
Those other projects include fund-raising efforts on behalf of Fairfax Hospital, the Heart Fund, John Hopkins Hospital, the Child Development Center for Cerebral Palsy and the universities of Notre Dame and William and Mary. Koons also sponsors almost four dozen baseball, football and basketball teams annually.
"I think we're up to 44 or 45 different teams," Koons says modestly, emphasizing that he doesn't sponsor anything "professional." Then, laughing, he adds, "The job I've got here at JKJ is just about the same thing. The kids are just older."
The funds to support all these activities have to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is new automobile sales.For four decades, beginning with Koons Sr. back in 1941, the family name has been associated with new cars. So Kooms Jr. is, by necessity and vocation, an expert on the marketing of both domestic and foreign makes. The 11 Koons dealerships, which include 10 local "deals" and a Ford outlet in Hollywood, Fla., carry products made by Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler and AMC as well as Toyota, Renault and Honda. As recently as last April, Koons opened his eleventh deal, a Porsche-Audi showroom in Annapolis.
His brother Jimmy is president and his mother Eleanor is chairman of Koons Ford 7-Corners, long the world's largest single Ford dealership.
"Heck, I'd rather be battling against myself or my family than against some stranger," says Koons, explaining why his salesmen offer competing products within the same market. The logistics involved in pitting American-made automobiles against the popular imports has resulted in some very definite Koons ideas about the influx of foreign cars to America.
"I'm not as concerned about the imports and their number of sales as I am about the amount of money that leaves the United States. To me that's the No. 1 problem," he claims. "By purchasing all these products overseas, we're sending all our cash overseas, which means it doesn't get spent here. That hurts your clothing stores, your grocery stores, your real estate sales, and so on.
"All this cash needs to be reinvested in the American economy, which would give all of business a shot in the arm and produce a larger tax base. To me, that's the big problem -- more so than how many Japanese or German products we may sell in any given day, month or year."
All that may sound strange coming from a man who recently opened a Porsche-Audi dealership and who operates several highly profitable showrooms devoted to foreign car sales. But Koons sees himself as a moderate, fully prepared to participate in the revitalization of the American automobile industry. And Koons is definitely not impressed with imported automobiles. After 20,000 miles, he says, most American autos are much better cars than their foreign counterparts.
"All the import dealers seem to be prospering very well," Koons says. "I'd be glad to sacrifice some sales today, or stay at the levels we've achieved. A freeze on imports at about the levels they are right now, give or take a few units, is not going to hurt anyone. The dealers could go into a period of no growth and still maintain fair profits and everything else.
"At the same time, I feel that the auto industry in the near future, whether it be this year, next year, or 1983, has got to bust out and go from approximately 8.7 or 9 million unit sales annually up to 11 or 12 million sales.
"Our scrappage right now is one million units a year more than what we're producing. The baby boom has almost petered out, but the number of new drivers is still growing every year. Well, sooner or later, it's all got to bust loose and we'll sell more cars.
"So, if you freeze imports at last year's level, and end up selling one or two million more cars nationally, obviously those sales would have to be domestics.That's where your real growth would come in. I think the 11 or 12-million car year has got to return."
Those levels were last approached in 1977 and 1978. Since then new-car sales have plummeted to less than 9 million units annually, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. Last year, new car and truck sales dropped to their lowest point since 1961, and the number of dealerships has declined, from more than 45,000 in 1955 to just over 25,000 today. Koons sees this decline as part of a larger, national trend that will eventually mean the demise of the remaining small-time car sales people.
"Unfortunately, the way the laws read today, you almost have to be big to survive," he says. "We are running a mom-and-pop type business, but we're big. You don't see any corner grocery stores anymore, and the three-building shopping areas are on their way out. Everybody's at one huge shopping mall that the big names seem to dominate.
"If you're in sales and you can't afford to locate in one of these malls, you probably can't afford to stay in business. In order to get into those malls, you have to get bigger. Unfortunately, in a way, that's where we're headed. That's the only way you can compete in this day and age," he says.
Koons is reluctant to discuss the sales and revenues of his family-held corporation, but he estimates his combined dealerships sell 35,000-plus units a year, at an average cost, he says, of about $7,000 a car. Using that figure, gross sales for the Koons conglomerate approach $250 million a year. Using NADA's average price per car of $8,245, the Koons empire leaves that figure in the dust. And that doesn't include receipts from the spinoff businesses -- Koons Leasing Corp., JK Auto Parts, JK Auto Distributors and others.
"Probably the most unique and hardest thing about being in the auto business, and why it's a lot harder business than people realize," Koons says, "is that you have to have knowledge of so many different aspects. You get into new car sales and then into used, and then trucks. So you have to be a specialist in these different sales areas.
"Then you get into finance and insurance, and so you have to be an insurance agent and a financial officer, or have these people working for you. Then you have to be in the service business, and into new parts sales. You have to know something about the auto body business.
"You take all these small businesses, put 'em together, and you have a big dealership. That's very difficult to run.
"You can have a great new-cars month, but if your shop goes to pot, then you did not have a good month for the dealership. So learning all this and being knowledgeable is what makes it exciting and intriguing and fun for me."
"Koons is on the high end of the distribution scale," says Frank E. McCarthy, executive vice president of NADA. "It's the little guys who do maybe 25 units a month that get hurt the most by high interest rates and inflation. We're looking at continued attrition in the auto sales industry."
Nonetheless, the Koons success formula pays off, combining hefty helpings of choice in product made even more palatable by an area-wide reputation for good service and fairness. And it's all polished off with a small-town, friendly attitude toward customers and employes alike.
"Our basic philosophy is that our customers don't just buy a new car, they buy Koons," explains Koons. "In service, perhaps the hardest thing to understand is that you have three basic problems. First, you have the human factor. Sometimes, but very rarely, a mechanic will goof up. Then you have the mechanical factor. New cars are the product of technology that occasionally fails. And finally, some people expect more from a machine than it can deliver. I think we will end up with a lot more satisfied customers than unsatisified ones.
"If we satisfy 90 percent of the people who come in for service, would you consider that a good record?" he asks. "Most people do. Well, we service about 300 cars a day right here; 10 percent of that would be 30 complaints a day, that would be horrible. Our complaint rate right now is about 2 percent. But we're trying to reduce even that."
This morning John Koons Jr. will be doing what he loves best, coaching the McLean All-Stars, a group of teen-aged boys selected from the Babe Ruth League teams in Koons' neighborhood, as they begin their annual assault on the Virginia state championship. Last year John Jr. coached his boys to that championship and the team ended the year ranked as "fourth in the South."
"When the baseball season is over," says Koons, "well, that's just about as sad a day as I ever have. We've won the state championship or played at that level every year in the last three or four years. I love those kids. It's a fun group."
But whether his boys win or lose, it's a sure bet that John W. Koons Jr. will be at the baseball diamond early every morning for practice. It's just the catharsis he likes before his drive to JKJ, where he coaches another team that has been winning for him.