By burton speakman
Cole Valley Auto Group is getting ready to celebrate its centennial, but about five years ago it wasn’t certain the dealership would ever make it to this point.
Cole Valley was one of the dealerships General Motors determined in 2009 would no longer receive new vehicles to sell when the company restructured after receiving a government buyout.
This decision forced the Coles to either buy new cars from other dealerships to keep the new-car business going, become solely a used-car lot or close, said David Cole. The dealership’s other line, Pontiac, was eliminated altogether in GM’s restructuring in 2009.
“There was one dealer-ship in Michigan we bought a lot of cars from,” he said. “There were weeks when we would buy 10 or 15 from them.”
Then, after the dealership got Cadillac back from GM in 2010, after the GM restructuring, Cole Valley had one of its best years, David Cole said.
“We had something to prove,” he said.
But 2009 wasn’t the first time the Cole family was without new cars. During World War II, David and Tom Cole’s grandfather, Clyde Cole Sr., who started the business in 1914, stopped getting new cars because of the war, David Cole said.
Anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur has to be willing to be innovative, David Cole said.
“You have to work hard in the business to stay ahead,” Tom Cole said.
Internet sales is one of the big areas where the Cole family has innovated. David Cole’s son, Chris, is the Internet sales manager.
Customers used to shop at multiple dealerships before purchasing a car, but because of the Internet, the average is now just more than one dealership before buying, Chris Cole said.
“There are a lot of dealerships that still don’t spend a lot of time dealing with the Internet,” David Cole said.
“They’d see a big increase in their sales if they did,” he said. “Customers now come to the dealership with information. They know as much about our cars as we do.”
Online sales also have changed used-car sales, Chris Cole said. There are people who decide what they want and make a deal online.
“We’ve even shipped cars to people in other states without them ever seeing it,” he said.
Part of the reason for the Cole family’s longevity in auto sales is no one in the family has been expected to enter the business, David Cole said.
“I tried to talk him [his son Chris] out of it,” he said. “It wasn’t a very good business at the time, but things have really turned around.”
David Cole said his father also didn’t push any of his sons to work for the dealership, though everyone in the family worked in the dealership when they were younger, Chris Cole said.
Overall, it’s a great business to be in, but it requires constantly trying new things, David Cole said.
“We go to conferences two or three times a year to see what other dealerships are doing,” Chris Cole said.
Those conferences help the dealership to keep track of any new developments, David Cole said.
Things have never remained static for the dealership.
When Cole Valley first opened, it was located at Market Street and Chestnut Avenue in Warren, where the dealership’s body shop is still located. The business moved to its current location in 1992.
The dealership business is constantly changing, said Chris Cole. Service has become a much larger part of the business.
“We service a lot more cars than we sell,” David Cole said.
The dealership has been busy helping customers get new parts after the recent recalls, he said.
“The dealerships have been the front lines for GM on that issue,” David Cole said. “Most people aren’t concerned. They just want to get it done, but it’s been a chance for us to talk to them.”
Part of the key to the industry is being active and involved, Tom Cole said.
“I’m out on the front lines, and am involved in sales,” he said. “We’re here every day.”
There are a lot of owners who stay in the back and aren’t involved, but this dealership isn’t like that, Tom Cole said. Cadillac doesn’t have as many recall issues as other brands, but the service department works with all GM models.
To celebrate 100 years, the dealership is hosting a cruise-in Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Cadillac dealership, 4111 Elm Road NE, Warren.
The group is still trying to locate a 1914 Cadillac to be part of the festivities.
There is no charge for vehicles to be part of the cruise-in, but registration is requested by calling 330-372-1665.