Rich Hartman buys Bellingham dealership

Rich Hartman, owner of the area’s largest car dealerships, is expanding his business to include a Bellingham dealership and at the same time moving into leadership roles in an influential trade association for his industry.

He is a vice president on the executive committee of the Washington State Auto Dealers Association. He’ll serve three one-year terms at progressively higher levels on the committee and then become its president. The association has been a strong public policy voice regarding auto dealerships and Hartman will sometimes be advocating in Olympia and Washington, D.C.

The association is open to people and businesses that are actively engaged is the auto business as a franchised dealer for new vehicles.

Among its primary functions is promoting a legislative agenda supporting dealerships. Hartman has already been involved at the policy level, serving on the state attorney general’s advisory board and working on legislative projects with Grays Harbor area legislators.

It’s best to “try to stay in the forefront (of legislative and policy discussions) so you can become partners (with lawmakers) instead of waiting to hear what happens to you,” Hartman said. “It’s nice to be able to affect positive change.”

New Bellingham Dealership

The increased level of involvement at the policy level comes at a time when he has expanded his business and purchased a Ford and Lincoln dealership in Bellingham that was the oldest in the state and one of the oldest in the country.

In August, Hartman’s purchase of Diehl Ford, which has been renamed to Five Star Bellingham Ford Lincoln, became official.

The dealership was founded in 1908, just five years after the founding of the Ford Motor Co., and had been in the Diehl family through four generations.

The way such things are figured, when the dealership changed hands it went from one of the oldest in the country, to the youngest, Hartman said. “A (dealer) buddy of mine called me and said, ‘Thanks, I just moved up a notch”on the dealership seniority list.

In Aberdeen, Hartman owns the Five Star Chevrolet Buick and Toyota operation on Boone Street. That location includes Honda power equipment. He also owns the Five Star Ford Lincoln Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram dealership on East Wishkah Street. That location includes a collision repair center. And he owns the Aberdeen Auto Sales used car lot and Aberdeen Auto Spa on Heron Street in downtown Aberdeen.

Now add to that Rich Hartman Bellingham Ford Lincoln.

Hartman said that in his career as an auto dealer “I’ve had my sights set on three dealerships and this was the fourth. Aberdeen was number one, two others didn’t work out and now this one.”

In terms of size, “When I bought (the Bellingham dealership) it was exactly the same size as our Aberdeen Ford store, but it’s in a market that’s four times the size of our market. We have nowhere to go but up,” he said.

Hartman said he has been looking at the dealership for the past decade or so. He said the purchase occupied his time seven days a week for many months. He said he’s not looking at acquiring any more.

He has hired Julian Greening, who was a general manager at another Bellingham dealership and has known Hartman for a decade, to be his GM at the new location. He also has general managers at the Aberdeen locations.

Hartman will live on Grays Harbor and in fact recently moved to Ocean Shores from the Olympia area, where he had lived the past few years, in part because of convenience for travel reasons.