FusionZONE Automotive Settles into New Palisades Location

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

Brett Sutherlin’s Florida Honda dealership designed a website that helped vault the business from 700th nationwide in sales to the top 25 in three years.

Then, he and his wife, Karen, the dealership’s finance director, realized that their combined auto sales and internet savvy could fill a niche for other car dealers.

In 2009, the couple, who together had 33 years of retail car experience, teamed up to create fusionZONE Automotive, which now provides more than 1,200 car-dealer websites in the U.S. and Canada.

Karen and Brett Sutherlin at fusionZONE Automotive. Photo: Lesly Hall

Karen and Brett Sutherlin at fusionZONE Automotive.
Photo: Lesly Hall

“There weren’t really any innovators in that space, and the results at my dealership helped us parlay into this company,” said Brett, who also grew up in the auto business because his father owned 23 dealerships in the southeastern United States. “We understand consumer behavior and what needs to go into the business. We hired the best of the best with technology. We made it come to life. We’ve had great results.”

Today, fusionZONE is one of the top-performing providers for Toyota based on various metrics, such as the number of site visits, how many leads a site creates and how long people stay on a site, Brett said. He sold his interest in the Honda dealership and began fusionZONE Automotive so that he and his wife could focus on the new enterprise, which now has 82 employees, including 50 at their 881 Alma Real headquarters.

The venture began in Naples, Florida, but after a few years, the Sutherlins sought to expand to the West Coast and selected Los Angeles as their preferred city.

In 2012, the couple moved to Marina del Rey, and the Palisades became their headquarters after their son Carter, now 10, was accepted into Village School’s kindergarten. The area immediately appealed to them.

“We just really love the walkability and the sense of community,” said Karen, who grew up in Salt Lake City and earned a business management degree from San Diego State. “It’s been wonderful living here and working here. We could have put our company in a less expensive place, but it was important to have our company closer to our life. It’s also great for our employees.”

At first, fusionZONE Automotive was headquartered in the Bowinkel building on Swarthmore, but the business eventually outgrew the space. In July, the company finished remodeling the former offices of the Ski Channel plus adjacent office space to create a 10,000-sq.-ft. modern gray and white expanse with wood floors.

The couple, who spends eight hours each weekday at the office, enjoys working together. “We’re a great team,” said Karen, who earned her MBA from the University of Miami. “Brett does more marketing and sales, and I’m more financial and operational. We’re really great partners.”

Before they met, Brett’s childhood history in the car business led him to pursue a degree in automotive marketing at Northwood University in Michigan. He intended to eventually work managing the family business. “I started at an early age and went to work in every department in the dealerships, but then the business was sold to AutoNation,” Brett said. “I had to pave my own way at that point.”

But the setback led him to a Honda dealership in Miami where he met Karen, which eventually led to them starting both a family and a company together. Their subsequent venture into the internet world has pleased them both.

“It’s been fascinating,” Karen said. “The digital arena just really boomed right about the time we started. The timing worked out really well for us.” And their auto experience gave them added expertise that helps the dealerships. “We know our clients. That’s what gives us a little bit of an edge.”

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