TUPELO • The midnight-black Alfa Romeo Giulia sits front and center on the showroom floor of The Collection of Tupelo, a new boutique luxury car dealership.
Nearby is a black Audi A5 Cabriolet, and just outside the showroom, ready to make a home inside, is the German automaker's flagship sedan: the A8.
By opening day on Oct. 1, owner Brian Vonderheide plans to have the showroom floor full of additional models of Alfa, Audi, BMW, Mercedes and other high-end brands.
"The only thing that I'd like to get that I probably won't by then is a Maserati," he said.
Vonderheide is a familiar name and face in automotive circles around Northeast Mississippi. He's been in the business for 30 years, including a long stint with Mid-South Auto Sales. The past six years, he's been in a corporate role for an automotive company.
The Collection is his first company he can call all his own. It's a dream he's pursued from the beginning of his career.
"This is something I've wanted to do for 30 years," he said. "When I started selling cars in 1990, I was exposed to some high-end dealerships and was fascinated by the process."
Vonderheide's first boss had a Porsche dealership among others, and he was eager to find out all the ins and outs of running a premium brand dealership.
"One of things he told me was that a certain paint was worth $8,000 as an option," he said. "This was 1990, and I'm selling Nissans and Chryslers. I just thought it was cool. I just always gravitated toward luxury and performance cars."
As Vonderheide's career grew, he was exposed to more of those types of vehicles, and he knew that eventually, he'd get to sell them himself.
"I've done a lot over the years in the car business – I've owned part of a franchise dealership, managed wholesaled cars, managed dealer groups ... but it was always in the back of my mind to have a luxury car dealership and I didn't care if they were new or used," he said.
His goal was to walk out on his showroom floor or lot and love every vehicle.
"That's not usually the case at any car dealership, and I knew in order to do that, I had to own my own," he said.
But Vonderheide didn't want a luxury car dealership just anywhere and felt a downtown destination was ideal. He had appreciated the growth of downtown Tupelo and the businesses and restaurants that opened there, the result of millions of dollar of public and private money invested to revitalize the area.
About two years ago, he decided to open his dream dealership. That idea got slowed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the delay, Vonderheide held off on making a decision. However, this year was different. While the coronavirus evolving into the delta variant could have easily put another stumbling block in Vonderheide's path, he decided to jump in with both feet anyway.
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"I decided there's really no right time," he said. "There is no after-COVID. The car market is crazy, and so you just can't wait for things to happen."
Despite his resolve, Vonderheide still hadn't nailed down a place for his dealership. He happened to be driving down Commerce Street one day and noticed the building at 209 Commerce Street, which had been home for several years to Pappi's Garage — a car showroom.
It was available for lease, and Vonderheide said it was "absolutely the vision I had in mind."
"It was an indoor showroom, it had been remodeled very well, it had four garage doors out front and it was downtown. It was perfect," he said. "So it was the building that pushed me over the edge to do this. And everything has pretty much worked perfectly and things have fallen into place."
The Collection isn't your typical used car dealership, Vonderheide stressed. It is a luxury and performance vehicles only, typically higher end European makes.
"I call it the world's finest brands," he said, "Just fun, nice beautiful cars."
Vonderheide has personally selected each vehicle for sale within his dealership, but said he's not looking to make an outrageous deal in which a customer pays thousands over MSRP. He said he wants to bring good value not only to his customers but also to his dealership; he offers concierge services for every make and model, which means he'll work to get the right car for the best price.
"That kind of limits what I can buy at auction, but it's the way I'm going to do it," he said.
Each car he buys also will come with remaining factory warranty, and while factory warranty work will have to be done at the brand dealerships in Memphis and Birmingham, it won't really matter because vehicle owners have to do that now anyway.
The Collection won't have a service department, but Vonderheide said he has an agreement with two local independent garages that will work on any car he sells if customers choose to do so.
It should be noted that independent shops train their employees like their dealership counterparts because service is where the money is made.
With luxury cars accounting for roughly 5% of all vehicles sales nationwide, and with used car demand as high as its ever been, Vonderheide may be tapping into at the market at the perfect time.
"I'm able to do it exactly like I want," he said. "It's being able to have it small enough where I can spend time with each car and you're only dealing with me. The last six years in a corporate dealership, I lost the ability to go out and sell cars the way I liked, and I missed being able to sell cars to friends. And that's what happens — a lot of times your customers become your friends. Now I can sit down and talk about a car and make the experience exciting again."
The Collection of Tupelo should have its website ready Oct. 1, but it does already have a Facebook and Instagram presence.