Selling Cars in Smallville

Bob Pietroske is our 2006 Ward's Dealer of the Year, and he's unlike his five predecessors. Since we started the annual feature in 2001, the honorees have been high-profile, high-volume dealers in major markets such as Southern California, greater New York and Denver. (See the honor roll on page 30.) Pietroske is different. He is a small-town General Motors dealer in Manitowoc, WI. It is a city of

Bob Pietroske is our 2006 Ward's Dealer of the Year, and he's unlike his five predecessors.

Since we started the annual feature in 2001, the honorees have been high-profile, high-volume dealers in major markets such as Southern California, greater New York and Denver. (See the honor roll on page 30.)

Pietroske is different. He is a small-town General Motors dealer in Manitowoc, WI. It is a city of about 34,000 people (only 600 more than in 1970) with a per capita income of $21,578 that is below the U.S. average of $24,436.

Yet Pietroske is a successful dealer and is quite at home in Manitowoc where he sells about 1,200-1,400 vehicles a year, most of them used.

Moreover, he is a pillar of his community, active in local affairs and generous towards charities.

Big-time dealers draw a lot of attention and most often appear on the covers of trade magazines.

But the backbone of automotive retailing in the U.S. are the thousands of small- and mid-town dealers who provide valuable services both on and off the business playing field.

They sell and service cars, support local charities, participate in local government, sponsor youth baseball teams, donate cars to worthy causes, fix police and fire vehicles and, all in all, make a big difference.

Without them, their communities wouldn't be the same. So for this year's Ward's Dealer of the Year, we picked someone from their ranks, the 63-year-old owner of Pietroske Inc., a store selling Buicks, Pontiacs, GMCs, Chevrolets, Cadillacs and Chevy medium-duty trucks under one roof.

The good news is there are many dedicated dealers like Pietroske, performing quiet heroics across the Republic.

Our Cliff Banks traveled to Manitowoc, on the shores of Lake Michigan, to spend time with Pietroske. His story begins on page 26.

My Cupholder Runneth Over

Readers offered lively mixed reactions to my story about cupholders being an emotional issue with customers.

In the story, George Peterson, president of AutoPacific automotive research firm, said people fib by claiming cupholders aren't important to them, when, in fact, they really are.

Peterson noted cupholders at one point weren't important to German auto makers, who considered them as a feature that detracts from drivers' primary purpose: driving.

Gary Jermov writes, “What is amazing is that it has taken so long for German companies, that sell significant numbers of vehicles here, to get the picture and translate this into effective cupholder design.”

He recalls that when working for Audi of America 10 years ago, he sent a fax to Germany showing the literal size of a large American soft-drink container. The home office did not seem to understand the concept of a 44-ounce Big Gulp.

He got a reply back “asking me not to exaggerate to make a point,” says Jermov. “They told me to simply be factual and that would be helpful. They just did not get it.”

But Dennis Williams, president Lindenengineering.com, says he understands why cupholders are foreign to German auto designers.

“Driving in Europe with a cup in one hand is considered driving without due care and attention,” he says. “You can get a stiff fine for such activity. That is the principal reason European designers see cupholders as chump features in their cars.”

Dom Marucci, an industrial designer/engineer for 44 years and past chairman of the local Delaware Valley Tri-State Human Factors Society, finds consumer interest in cup holders low.

But, he adds, that is premised on cupholders being adequately designed. When they are not, consumer concern rises sharply. “The high interest is based solely upon the emotions of how poorly they are designed,” says Marucci.

He adds, “How vividly I remember the bizarre multi-foldout cupholder console in past Ford Taurus sedans. I couldn't stop laughing in the showroom.”

Steve Finlay is editor of Ward's Dealer Business. He is at [email protected].

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