There are dealers and then there are dealers. Dealers are successful beyond most other dealers' comprehension. Dealers are held in such high regard by manufacturers that often they're called on to try out new things. Dealers are the kind of businessmen who other dealers look to for ideas and advice. Dealers share their success with their community, their country and often the rest of the world.

H.F. “Bert” Boeckmann II of the North Hills, CA-based Galpin Automotive Group is a dealer. In fact, he is Ward's Dealer Business magazine's first ever Dealer of the Year.

Mr. Boeckmann was selected from a group of 52 nominees by a panel of eight electors, consisting of members of the magazine staff, leading industry analysts and a representative from academia.

The Galpin Automotive Group had a big year in 2000. It ranked 31st on the Ward's MegaDealer 100 with $654.9 million in total revenue, up from $616.3 million in 1999.

The group's flagship, Galpin Ford, ranked third on this year's Ward's Dealer 500 list with $407.5 million in total revenue, compared to the $394.9 million it posted the previous year.

For 30 of the past 34 years, Galpin Ford has been No. 1 in profit of all Ford Motor Co. dealerships. For the past 11 years it has ranked No. 1 nationally in retail car and truck sales. The store also is No. 1 in leasing and No. 1 in financing, according to Ford Credit.

The Galpin Automotive Group also boasts Lincoln Mercury, Jaguar, Saturn, Mazda, Hyundai and Kia franchises. In 2000, Mr. Boeckmann became the nation's No. 1 Saturn and No. 1 Jaguar retailer. His Lincoln Mercury store was No. 1 in the western region. Galpin Jaguar-Lincoln Mercury was 224th on the Ward's Dealer 500 with $110.9 million in total sales.

“Our success has not been an overnight thing,” explains Mr. Boeckmann. “It's so evolutionary. If 2000 was special, so was '99 and '98. We're always coming up with new promotions and new ideas.”

Some of last year's evolutionary ideas included the Galpindirect.com web site, which offers a four-step, avenue to initiate a one-day on-line vehicle sale.

“He is the best dealer I have ever met. He is the whole package.”
James O'Connor Ford Division President

The Galpin team also set up a series of committees on sales department processes. Some of the issues addressed were delivery time, vehicle preparation, inventory control and payroll, which wasn't as much about customer satisfaction as salesman satisfaction, the dealer notes. But you can't have customer satisfaction without employee satisfaction.

“It really makes the whole store work more smoothly,” says Mr. Boeckmann. “Many of the sales processes affect other departments and it really got people working more as a team.”

Mr. Boeckmann is held in such high regard by Ford Motor Co. that Ford Div. President James O'Connor asked him to be the first dealer to pursue the controversial Blue Oval certification.

“He's always been the No. 1 dealer in the Ford brand,” says Mr. O'Connor. “We wanted to get a dealer that is highly respected, highly credible and highly successful to put the Blue Oval thumbprint of approval on the program.”

Galpin Ford became the first Blue Oval certified dealership in the country in April of last year. The store was then benchmarked as a pilot dealership that helped set the standards for the rest of the Blue Oval program.

“That's a result of something,” says Mr. Boeckmann.

One of the problems with an operation the size of Galpin Ford, which outsold 11 states in 2000, is that sometimes customer service can be compromised. Mr. Boeckmann noticed that this was the case, especially in the service department.

“As you get larger, you really have to focus on customer service,” says Mr. Boeckmann. “You also have to be creative. We made some adjustments from an experience standpoint.”

Among the adjustments was dividing the service department into smaller units. Customers now deal with only one staffer when they drop off the car and pick it up.

Gary Ackerman of the Ford Country dealership Las Vegas' Valley Auto Mall is one dealer who looked to Mr. Boeckmann as a dealer to emulate. Mr. Ackerman worked at Galpin Ford in the early 1970s.

“I kept notes the whole time I was there and put them in a file, which I still have,” says Mr. Ackerman. “I call it my master plan. It is hand-written notes of the way he laid out his lots, how the lot boys were organized, how the paperwork flowed.

“I promised myself if I ever got to build Gary Ackerman's store, that I'd pull my master file out and to the best of my ability, copy everything he taught me,” says Mr. Ackerman, who was true to his word when he built Ford Country.

“I can't tell you how much of our success in Las Vegas I owe to Bert Boeckmann,” Mr. Ackerman continues. “But if you walk around our Ford Country you'll see an awful lot of cues from his dealership, like the diner, our logo (it's Galpin's upside down) and the color schemes.

“This store is remarkably similar in layout, in approach, in systems and processes to the Galpin Ford of the 1970s,” he explains, “the exception being computers and the Internet.”

Mr. Boeckmann started as a salesman at Galpin Ford in 1953. Since then he's missed two days of work due to illness.

He bought the franchise in 1960 and built his current store in 1966. He was the first to include a restaurant adjacent to the dealership, a feature other dealers, in addition to Mr. Ackerman, are incorporating. He also was the first to offer customized vehicles. In 1985, he was the California and national Time Magazine Dealer of the Year.

“He is the best dealer I have ever met,” says Mr. O'Connor. “He is the whole package. And his wife, Jane, is side by side with him the whole way, as are his sons.”

As a member of the Los Angeles Police Commission from 1984 to 1991 and from 1993 to the present, Mr. Boeckmann continues to make significant contributions to his community.

He was named a Ford Motor Co. Hero of the Planet at the 2001 NADA Convention for “the outpouring of charity and hope that Mr. Boeckmann provides around the globe for those in need.”

Through Galpin Ford and the Boeckmann Charitable Foundation, he regularly and generously supports legions of needy organizations across America. In 2000, the Boeckmann Charitable Foundation gave $1.75 million to 161 charitable causes at home and around the globe.

His involvement and honors span a multitude of organizations. He is a member, past president and current board member of the Greater Los Angeles New Car Dealer Assoc., a member of the American International Auto Dealers Assoc. and the Ford Dealers Advertising Assoc.

In addition, he is a founding member and current board member of the Los Angeles Police Foundation and serves on the board of governors for the Los Angeles Police Historical Society. He was honored with the Los Angeles Police Reserve Citizen Award. Mr. Boeckmann recently was elected to the board of directors for the Horatio Alger Assoc. and is a board member for the Valley Industry and Commerce Assoc.

How the Dealer of the Year was selected

The staff of Ward's Dealer Business put a call out to various sources in the industry and came up with a list of 52 nominees for its first-ever Dealer of the Year.

Ballots and accompanying background material was sent to eight electors, which included members of the WDB staff, industry analysts and observers and a representative from the academic world.

The board of electors included: Joe Lescota, chairman of the Automotive Marketing Dept. at Northwood University; Jim Mateyka, vice president of the A.T. Kearney's Automotive Consulting Practice; Lincoln Merrihew, vice president of corporate planning for the Automotive Information Center; Barry Catlett, producer of ASTN News; Richard West, publisher of Ward's Dealer Business and Ward's Auto World; and Ward's Dealer Business staff members Steve Finlay, editor; Tim Keenan, senior editor; and Cliff Banks, associate editor.

Dealer of the Year finalists represent top quality from coast to coast

By Tim Keenan

High sales volume doesn't always translate into being a great car dealer. Some of the dealers that Ward's Dealer Business identified during its hunt for the Dealer of the Year weren't necessarily the biggest in their area, but they utilized best practices, had exceptional CSI scores and were solid corporate citizens during 2000.

Here's a look at some of the finalists by region.

In the northeast, Ken Crowley of Crowley Chrysler-Jeep in Bristol, CT and Rich Liebler of the Hillside Auto Group in Hillside, NJ were standouts.

Mr. Crowley sold 866 new units in 2000, which was 290% of his minimum sales requirement. His dealership's CSI was two points above the national average as was his service satisfaction index.

Crowley Chrysler-Jeep's Internet sales approach 20% of its total sales and its service department operates six days a week with multiple shifts.

Mr. Liebler purchased a bankrupt Lincoln Mercury store in 1974 for $5,000. Today he sells seven brands and is the largest Ford dealer in New Jersey. Ford Motor Co. named him a Hero of the Planet at the 2001 NADA Convention for his efforts to start the Youth Automotive Training Center as a memorial to his late son. Since the program's founding in 1996, it has become a model for a similar Peace Corps program.

In the southeast, Dick Keffer and the Williamson family are standout dealers.

In addition to Keffer Jeep-Chrysler and Dick Keffer Pontiac-GMC, both in Charlotte, NC, Mr. Keffer has an interest in some 16 other stores. His uniqueness comes from placing qualified employees into their own dealerships with a 10-year buyout plan. Currently 11 former employees are involved in that program.

Mr. Keffer also is involved heavily in children's charities. Each year his company takes 500 underprivileged children to the beach for a day. Over the last four years, he has taken 15 terminally ill children and their families to Disney World.

Vero Beach Lincoln Mercury in Vero Beach, FL is owned by Bill Williamson Sr. It is operated on a day-to-day basis by his sons Bill Williamson, Jr., and Dave Williamson.

The dealership achieved Lincoln Premiere Experience Certification in 2000 and had a 2000 owner loyalty rate of 47.41% versus the regional average of 34.1% and the national average of 28.4% Also, 86% of customers recommend this dealership as a place to purchase or lease a new vehicle.

Ford Motor Co. named the younger Bill Williamson a Hero of the Planet for his efforts in support of Angel Flight, a national organization dedicated to ensuring that no patient is denied access to distant specialized medical treatment.

Stan Kujawa of Findlay Ford-Lincoln Mercury in Findlay, OH is the top dealer in the north central region. His operation has been the No. 1 dual Ford and Lincoln Mercury store in the nation four out of the last 10 years.

Among his innovations is a program based on Ford's service department customer questionnaire. For each question in which the score is above the national average, service employees receive $100. They also receive an additional $25 for each question scoring in the top 10%. For each question that scores below average, the employees lose $100.

On the humanitarian side, Mr. Kujawa formed the Children's Wishing Star, a home on the grounds of an El Salvador hospital to treat children with minor medical needs to free up hospital beds for people with major illness.

He and his wife also spearheaded efforts to provide the city of San Salvador with an ambulance and two fire trucks. The couple adopted two children from El Salvador and has started a program in the dealership to help employees adopt children. So far dealership employees have adopted eight children from El Slavador.

In the south central area of the nation, Jerry Reynolds of Prestige Ford in Garland, TX is recognized for service above and beyond the call of duty as chairman of the Ford Dealer Council during controversies surrounding the Blue Oval program and the Firestone tire recalls. In addition, he is the No. 1 dealer in Texas and sells more F-150 pickup trucks than any dealer in the world.

In the northwest, Portland, OR's Ed Tonkin, of the Ron Tonkin Family of Dealerships, has re-engineered his 10 dealerships from the ground up with the Internet customer in mind. At Tonkin.com, for example, customers receive the quality and attention to detail synonymous with the Tonkin family for four decades and two generations with the special pricing and convenient tools of the web.

Morrie Stoebner of Honda Windward in Kanehohe, HI is a top dealer in the far southwest. He was the Time Magazine Quality Dealer of the Year for Hawaii in 2000. Mr. Stroebner is Honda's highest-volume dealer in Hawaii. The store also is in the top 1% of all Honda dealers in the country for total customer satisfaction.

On the mainland, in Cerritos, CA, Cerritos Dodge, owned by Kent Browning, averages 193 new Dodge sales month in an area that is heavily import oriented.

Other dealers nominated for Dealer of the Year honors

Jonnie Agresta
Agresta Oldsmobile-Pontiac-GMC, Williamstown, NJ.

Denny Amrhein
Grogan's Town Chrysler-Plymouth, Toledo, OH.

Harland Bettenhausen
Bettenhausen Motor Sales, Tinley Park, IL.

Phil Bivens
Puyallup Chrysler Plymouth, Puyallup, WA.

Steve Capellino
Towne Buick, Buffalo, NY.

Don Chalmers
Don Chalmers Ford, Rio Rancho, NM.

Harry Criswell III
Criswell Chevrolet-Kia, Gaithersburg, MD.

Tom Durant
Classic Chevrolet, Grapevine, TX.

Hal J. “Tex” Earnhardt
Earnhardt Automotive Group, Gilbert, AZ.

Irma Elder
Elder Automotive Group, Troy, MI.

Randy Farnsworth
Randall Pontiac-Buick-GMC, Canangaigua, NY.

Rick Flick
Banner Chevrolet, New Orleans, LA.

Ed Foster
Foster Motors, Middlebury, VT.

James Fritze
Red River Motor Co., Bossier City, LA.

Milton Greeson Jr.
Atzenhoffer Chevrolet, Victoria, TX.

Jack Hannania
Acura of Orange Park, Jacksonville, FL.

Stew Hansen
Stew Hansen's Dodge City, Des Moines, IA.

Christopher Hall
Christopher's Dodge World, Golden, CO.

Glenn Hartzheim
Hartzheim Dodge, San Jose, CA.

William T. Heard Jr.
Bill Heard Automotive, Columbus, GA.

Marshall Hebert
Hebert's Town & Country Chrysler Jeep, Shreveport, LA.

William Kliewer
Patriot Pontiac-Buick-Oldsmobile-GMC-Deawoo, Killeen, TX.

Harvey Koning
Grand Oldsmobile, Grandville, MI.

Jim Lecher
The Hub North, Milwaukee, WI.

Bill McDaniels
Acura of Charleston, Charleston, SC.

Dave Mungenast
St. Louis Honda, St. Louis, MO.

David Olsen
Bernard's Northtown, New Richmond, WI.

Peter W. Pannier
Northgate Chrysler Plymouth, Cincinnati, OH.

Theo Proctor
Proctor Honda, Talahasse, FL.

John Rampone
Ramp Chevrolet, Port Jefferson, NY.

Clark Richardson
Goodson Acura, Irving, TX.

Glenn S. Ritchey
Jon Hall Chevrolet, Daytona Beach, FL.

John J. Schenden
Pro Chrysler Jeep, Thornton, CO.

Bill Schicker
McMahon Ford, St. Louis, MO.

Ton Sheehan
Sheehan Pontiac-GMC, Lighthouse Point, FL.

Frank Thompson
Overland Park Jeep, Overland Park, KS.

Terrence R. Tobey
Key Chrysler Plymouth, Xenia, OH.

George R. Wagner Wagner
Cadillac, Tyler, TX.

Joel Weinburger
Continental Acura of Dupage, Lisle, IL.

Don Wessel
Don Wessel Oldsmobile-Honda, Springfield, MO.

Jeff Wolfe
Jay Wolfe Honda, Kansas City, MO.

Ken Zangara
Zangara Dodge, Albuquerque, NM.