Multi-brand dealerships have been a fixture in Canadian small towns for a long time, and American dealers shouldn't be averse to them, says John L. Waldie, president of a Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealership owned by Stratford Motor Products in Stratford, Ontario, Canada.
With sentiment and pride, Waldie, 60 years old and still a Corvette racing enthusiast, relates the long history of selling cars in a city where the dealers get along well with each other.
“Even as competitors, we're quite a friendly group,” he says. “I recently hosted a luncheon of all our dealers in honor of Henry and George Kalbfleisch, whose Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep stores closed last year after more than 100 years in business.
“Henry is in his 80s and George is my age, and their dealership was one of Canada's first Ford stores and, then in the 1920s became one of the first Chrysler dealerships. They had DeSoto and Plymouth franchises, as well.”
With about 30,000 residents, Stratford, on the banks of the Avon River, is home to a renowned Shakespeare festival. It started out as a railroad town that also had several furniture plants, the largest hog market in Canada and, lately, automotive parts plants.
Waldie's family was in the hardware business there, when he graduated in engineering from Ryerson Technical College in Toronto.
“Our family started out with multiple GM franchises,” Waldie recalls. “Next door, on Ontario Street, is Gary Stockie's Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership, which had the Oldsmobile franchise. Then there's Expressway Ford-Lincoln (once Ford-Mercury), which is factory-owned, down the way.”
The only single-point stores are Stratford Honda and stores selling Kia and Mazda. Although Waldie calls Stratford “a good auto sales town,” there are no Toyota, Hyundai Saturn-Saab or Nissan franchises.
But Waldie says the talk at the Kalbfleisch luncheon was that Stratford is ready to add franchises, especially Toyota.
With the new Buick Enclave and Pontiac Torrent doing well as Canadian-built cars, SMP Pontiac-Buick-GMC is enjoying healthy sales, Waldie says.
The Torrent is built at the nearby CAMI plant shared by GM and Suzuki in Ingersoll, Ontario. Stratford also is close to Toyota's assembly plant in Cambridge, Ontario, and a new Toyota plant under construction in Woodstock, Ontario.
Is Ontario over-dealered? “We don't think so,” Waldie says. “The Kalbfleisch Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep franchise will be relocated to a new building in St. Mary's, Ontario, about 15 miles away from Stratford.
“St. Mary's already has a Chevrolet-Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealership, but there is something to be said these days about more choices than less when it comes to consumers visiting dealerships.”
Waldie's wife, Eleanor, works one or two days a week in the dealership, which employs 34 people. The Waldies have two adopted sons.
With both domestic and foreign-brand auto plants, more vehicles are made in Ontario than in Michigan, the highest auto-producing state in the U.S.
“Canada builds some of the best cars in the world for not only the U.S. domestic automakers but for Honda and Toyota,” Waldie boasts. “We've also assembled Camaros, Firebirds, Volvos and the Hyundai Sonata. Our dealers, like the Kalbfleisch family, are among the best anywhere. It's a business our towns take pride in.”