One of the most respected and successful dealers in the huge Los Angeles market is Bert Boeckmann, 74, owner of the top-selling Galpin Ford and several other stores in the San Fernando Valley city of North Hills.

Ward's interviewed him in his office in connection with the Galpin Group's repeat appearance on the Ward's Megadealer 100.

Ward's: How has Galpin Ford continued to thrive while sales of your core product have declined?

Boeckmann: The year has started quietly for Ford, that's true. It's the most competitive market that I can remember over 52 years as a Ford dealer here at Galpin. We think that our large customer base has grown tired of all those huge rebates and come back to us as a dealer whose ads here in the Valley have been absolutely price-free for 10 years. They value the Galpin approach, which is without the hype and spin.

Ward's: As the No. 1 Ford dealer, why haven't you sold that idea to other Ford dealers around the country?

Boeckmann: Well, when Ford had a meeting of all the sales managers recently, I was invited to speak about how things are done at Galpin. No-price ads built around customer satisfaction and a half-century of customer retention were my power points.

Ward's: You've just completed a Premier Automotive Group building across Roscoe Blvd. from the Galpin showroom. How does that fit into your growth strategy?

Boeckmann: Including Lincoln, the Premier building allows us to forecast sales of up to 18,000 new cars this year, compared to 15,822 in 2004. We've added Mazda and Volvo to our new Lincoln Mercury store in Valencia, north of Simi Valley, and our Volvo stores in Calabasas and Studio City are doing extremely well. Up there, in Valencia, though, we do advertise prices.

Ward's: Galpin came late in diversifying. How come?

Boeckmann: Well, not that late. We were a charter Saturn dealer, and Saturn of the Valley is right next door to Galpin Ford, with a second location in Santa Clarita, and the Volvo store in Studio City has Saab, so that makes us a GM dealer, too.

Ward's: With that growth, do you think of going public or being bought up by one of the publicly owned groups?

Boeckmann: Not at all. We have a culture that reaches San Fernando Valley families and beyond into L.A. and the communities north of the Valley. Our Horseless Carriage restaurant, right here adjoining Galpin Ford, is symbolic of that culture, as is the Valley monthly magazine. My wife, Jane, is publisher.

Our 1,100 employees reflect the Galpin culture. Our switchboard operators speak Spanish, and we have held promotions for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the late highly popular Mexican singer Adam Sanchez, who sadly was killed in an auto accident.

Being publicly owned changes a culture like ours, attuned to Valley tastes and families, to one driven by Wall Street standards and demands. We've seen that in the L.A. market at the many stores that are in public groups. Besides, my sons Beau and Brad are vice presidents for marketing, real estate and motorsports, and they are the future of Galpin Ford.

Ward's: What's special about the Premier building across the street?

Boeckmann: There's an Aston Martin showroom, locked behind a bank vault type door, that's got to be a dealer first. It's furnished to a fare-thee-well, as are the Volvo, Land Rover, Jaguar and Lincoln showrooms. The buying experience is what a buyer of stunning cars might expect. The whole Premier building is like a museum of great new cars.

Ward's: How do you feel about the new management look at Ford?

Boeckmann: I'm pleased with the positive approach to dealer relations coming from CEO Bill Ford and Steve Lyons (the former Ford Div. president who last month became Ford Motor Co.'s group vice president-North America marketing, sales and service). There have been some issues that have hurt the dealers, like the “collection” buyouts that started in the (Jacques) Nasser CEO era. But this management listens to dealers who, after all, are the main customers.

Ward's: You are quite close to Lee Iacocca. How's he doing?

Boeckmann: He was in the other day with an idea for Big Three dealers. He's 80, you know, and is beginning to look his age. But you've got to give him credit. He's still in there pitching.

Ward's: As a leading Saturn dealer, what's your take on GM and its problems?

Boeckmann: They've shown management inconsistency by turning the spigot on and off for Saturn products. Now the spigot is on. The Sky sports coupe points them in the right direction. Chevy dealers have fought every expansion of the Saturn line, but I think the direction for more Saturns is the way to go. For us, it's been a consistent money maker and certainly not “over-dealered” like so many other franchises.

Ward's: Your longtime in-house attorney, Alan Skobin, is vice-president of the California New Motor Vehicle Board. How has that affected Galpin Ford as one of the state's largest dealers?

Boeckmann: Alan has been with us many years and is doing a good job for the board. His position has been a positive for the state, consumers, dealers and certainly Galpin Ford. There's an extra responsibility when you're a volume leader in the largest vehicle market, and we're delighted to have one of our senior vice presidents on the board that serves the citizens of California.

Ward's: What other trends for vehicles have you spotted in this mercurial economy?

Boeckmann: We raised our used retail sales about 10% last year, to 4,530 units, and we're projecting a further gain with a new facility for reconditioning. Business generated on the Internet rose from 11% of 2003 sales to 16.6% in 2004 and should continue to increase.

The Ford Five Hundred is getting a bad rap for styling but it's a terrific car for handling and roominess. I'm hopeful Ford can reshape its front end in a year or so.

Our two Saturn stores sold a near-record 2,438 new cars last year and the franchise accounted for about $66 million in revenues out of our grand total of $728 million. I think Saturn is finally on the right path.

Ward's: Finally, you've been with Galpin Ford since 1953. It was founded by Frank Galpin. Why not change it to Boeckmann Ford?

Boeckmann: Galpin is so much easier to pronounce and spell and identify with. Besides, I don't have that big an ego. Galpin is here to stay.