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New owner takes helm at Lakeland, Fla., Suzuki dealership

Dec. 14–LAKELAND — Suzuki of Lakeland has yet to reach its one-year
anniversary, but the dealership already has new owners.

Located at 6565 S. Florida Ave., the dealership is now in the hands of Lee
Barlas, who owns Suzuki of Orlando and three other Suzuki dealerships in North
Carolina with four partners.

"We love the area," Barlas said. "We are looking to grow our franchises down
here in the Tampa market in addition to the Orlando market." Barlas’ partners
include his brother, John Barlas, John Boussias, Don Mullis and Jason Willis.

Suzuki of Lakeland opened in March and is the county’s second Suzuki dealership,
after Huston Motors in Lake Wales. Former owner Joe de Sousa said he sold the
business because of personal reasons but said the dealership had been successful.

"I’m sorry to leave the area. It was very enjoyable and I liked meeting
everyone, but it was one of those personal choices we had to make," said De
Sousa, who runs a consulting business in Hillsborough County. "Lakeland is a
great market and I’m sure those fellows will do well there."

De Sousa’s partner in the dealership, Roger Rivard, owns James-Rivard
Pontiac/GMC in Brandon.

Barlas said Lakeland Suzuki has hired about 30 new employees across all
departments and plans to bring in 500 new and used vehicles within the next few
weeks. Troy Serrano, a former sales manager at Suzuki of Orlando, has been named
general manager.

Barlas said he is eyeing other potential sites in Central Florida, but will now
focus on Lakeland.

Suzuki of Orlando ranks second in sales among all U.S. Suzuki dealerships,
Barlas said, and he hopes to achieve similar levels of success in the local market.

"We’re going to dedicate this month to introducing ourselves in the area, then
we’re going to shoot for No. 1," he said.

Barlas currently has no plans to modify the 11,500-square-foot dealership
because it was built earlier this year and features the updated "Suzuki Square"
design. Suzuki of Lakeland will hold a grand opening Saturday.

Title: New owner takes helm at Lakeland, Fla., Suzuki dealership
Authors: Kennedy, Kyle
Source: Ledger, The (Lakeland, FL); 12/14/2006

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