A year after General Motors Corp.'s 1908 incorporation, Charles F. Dunn applied for a Chevrolet franchise in a northwestern Ohio town near Toledo.
This year, Dunn Chevrolet-Buick in Oregon, OH, celebrates its centennial as a dealership. It bills itself as GM's oldest family-owned store.
“We are a GM family-owned dealership to the core,” says Charles Dunn's great grandson, Gregory T. Dunn. “We were one of the first Buick and Oldsmobile dealerships, and have never entertained any thought of adding a non-GM franchise or acquiring a GM store outside the Toledo market.”
Through the years, the dealership has weathered all kinds of setbacks, including the Great Depression, the closing of Oldsmobile, GM's current cash problems and layoffs at several big Toledo auto parts plants.
Co-owners Jim and Tom Dunn have enhanced the store's website to attract customers from a 60-mile (96-km) radius extending down Interstate 75 to Findlay, OH.
“It may be a bit strange for a 100-year-old dealership that started with a gas pump in front to build a strong website data base,” says veteran Dunn salesman and Internet manager Jim Velliquette. “But the Dunns always have been tuned in to their customers.”
The family has enlarged the service department and body shop, opening up both facilities to vehicles of all brands.
Shop foreman Ronald J. Porter and service director Phil Tipton have managed increases in the number of service bays, which now stand at 26. They also have initiated training for technicians certified for work on GM's new hybrid engines and upcoming electric Chevrolet Volt.
The dealership has been an enthusiastic user of online service training videos produced by Raytheon Professional Services.
“The Raytheon videos have been a real tool for our technicians,” says Porter. “It's the first time technicians can ask questions about repair or maintenance issues and get immediate answers online, whether they're in the shop or at home or are in their vehicles.”
Tipton has instituted a service specialty system for quick lube, used-vehicles, new-car prep and warranty work.
Shop foreman Porter says Dunn Chevy-Buick has become a GM leader in tire sales, handling eight brands in competition with independent tire stores spread throughout Greater Toledo.
“A tire is a tire,” declares Tipton. “But the Dunns never liked being outsold by Belle Tire for a tire replacement. We're competitive as all get out on wheel alignments or tire rotations or quick lubes at $19.95 a pop. A competitive spirit is something the family had instilled all these years.”
The Dunns were dismayed when the Oldsmobile brand was axed nearly 10 years ago, says Greg Dunn. “That's because we had and have a lot of Olds owners who didn't switch to Buick or Chevrolet.
“My dad and grandfather had the Buick franchise early on and then lost it to Toledo's Cadillac dealer, Steve Taylor. We bought it back from Steve when Olds was dropped, but we'd like to acquire Cadillac if it becomes available.
“Taylor is on the west side of the Maumee (Toledo's river) and we're on the east side, so there are a lot of Cadillac owners here that we wind up servicing.”
Dunn averages up to 70 service repair orders a day. That is less than before, due to the decline in GM warranty claims.
A Saturn Vue SUV was in the Dunn shop for servicing during a tour of the facility, leading to a question of why Dunn, with all its history, didn't land a Saturn franchise.
“Somehow the GM dealers in town didn't dig the new Saturn franchise, so it wound up on Central Avenue's auto row with the Ford dealer,” says Velliquette, who has been a Dunn salesman since 1967.
Employee turnover is a problem at many dealerships, but not at the Dunn dealership.
“They're paid well and share the same benefits,” says Greg Dunn. “No midnight service shifts or long weekend hours. Separate lunch rooms for each department. No target pressures.”
He says that after a tough end to 2008, the store has kept new-car sales steady this year. “We're ready for a second 100 years.”