WHATCHA GOT? Cows, pigs, maple syrup, all work for a trade-in at Vt. dealership
Car dealer and free-trader Gardner Stone: "I feel everything is worth something."
Published in Automotive News Oct. 29, 2012
There's no Blue Book value for pigs, cows or maple syrup.
But Gardner Stone has taken all of those as trade-ins from customers of his Ford and GMC dealership in rural Vermont.
He boldly claims the business, G. Stone Motors, "will take anything in trade." He really means it.
"I feel everything is worth something," says Stone, 71. "Lots of times you'll get into the middle of a deal and the customer won't be able to go any further. So we always ask them, 'What else you got that you're not using?'"
Stone has been bartering antiques, livestock and other oddities with car and truck shoppers for nearly 50 years. He says such transactions represent about 20 percent of his sales.
Recently, his unique business approach caught the attention of a production studio, Lionsgate, which thought the dealership would be an ideal subject for a reality show.
A pilot the company filmed tested well, and GSN -- formerly the Game Show Network -- ordered a season of eight half-hour episodes. Filming just wrapped up after about six weeks, and the show, titled "Family Trade," is planned for sometime in 2013.
"Gardner is a great businessman, and he really goes by his gut," says David Schiff, GSN's senior vice president for programming and development. "The variety of things that come in that door are so unique and so interesting and so much fun."
Stone initially thought someone was playing a prank on him when Lionsgate broached the idea. He agreed to do the show as long as it was not staged and depicted his dealership conducting business the same way it normally does.
"I'm very adamant about making this a legitimate thing," Stone says. "I can't stand these reality shows that you just know aren't right. We don't know where any of the deals are going to go prior to negotiating on the air."
Stone founded a used-car lot in his lifelong hometown of Middlebury in 1974, gaining GMC and Ford franchises in the 1980s. In 1993 he became one of the first Hummer dealers.
Stone's son and daughter grew up around the dealership and now help run it; Todd manages the main dealership and Darcy oversees a commercial division that sells trucks and trailers.
A prominent aspect of "Family Trade" is the younger Stones having to figure out how to turn the items their father accepts into cash. They use eBay and Craigslist for a lot of the acquisitions and know people that will repeatedly buy certain things, such as tractors.
Many of the items are displayed for sale in the showroom, while animals typically are either sent to a nearby auction barn, sold to local farmers or temporarily housed on one of his children's pastures. (They're currently creating a bigger pasture.)
"It works for us," says Todd Stone, 44, who grew up watching his father wheel and deal and expects he will continue the tradition after eventually taking over. "It's helped us get some deals that we wouldn't have gotten, and most of the time we do make good money, Even if we break even, we still sold the automobile, and we made money on that."
'Roll the dice'
Gardner Stone, a veteran of the Vermont Air National Guard, is a champion tractor puller who used four jet engines to create a 12,000-hp flame-throwing tractor named "The General." He says he doesn't spend much time evaluating or researching items before offering an appraisal. "We shoot from the hip," he says. "We don't definitely know where we're going to place everything. You just roll the dice, but at least you make a deal."
He adds, "We win more than we lose."
G. Stone is not the only auto dealership that accepts unusual trade-ins, but few get more adventurous than boats, all-terrain vehicles and the like. The business, which sells about 400 new and 250 used vehicles a year, is receiving compensation, which neither the dealership nor GSN would disclose, but Schiff of GSN says the Stones are "not getting rich off it."
"They're not going to give outrageous amounts of money just for the television show," says Schiff, whose network is also developing a similar show about a cash-for-gold emporium. "They really have to make a deal. There's a lot of tension in these negotiations."
In the pilot episode, which has not been broadcast publicly, one customer traded in 30 gallons of maple syrup from his farm. Another deal involved several pigs. Negotiations over a hot-air balloon fell apart.
This month G. Stone sold a Ford F-550 by closing a $2,500 gap with an antique phone booth, desk and Victrola phonograph.
Another deal just closed with Stone taking possession of a 21/2-year-old heifer. "We were down to $1,500, and I just couldn't make the guy move," Stone says. "He said, 'I have some beef cattle.'"
The cow later sold for $1,000, Todd Stone says.
Over the years, Gardner Stone says he has agreed to take airplanes, pool tables, cowboy boots, horses, donkeys, a barber chair and land in the Florida Keys.
"If you can think of it," he adds, "I've probably negotiated on it."
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