After law school and four years as a trial lawyer, Tim Brynteson found himself in the oddest of places: a car dealership in Greeley, Colo.
He was there not as a customer but as a partner in a business started by his in-laws in 1922.
'One Christmas, my father-in-law was trying to decide what he was going to do with the business,' he says. 'So I took a week's vacation and spent it there to see if I would like it.'
Six years later, Brynteson, 36, is a partner in Garnsey & Wheeler Ford.
'In our town, there are only two single-line dealers,' he says of the dealership, which is about an hour from Denver. 'The rest are multi-operations. It seems that everybody is adding dealerships or groups.'
They have been approached many times in recent years, but the partners say they agree that adding franchises would take away from the benefits of selling only Ford products.
'If I were selling a different line, I might consider it,' Brynteson says. 'But, it seems that it would have just been adding an awful lot of head-aches. And we wouldn't be maximizing what we could get out of Ford.'
New quarters help
Besides, he says, business is going well. 'Five years ago, we sold just under $30 million,' he says. Last year, we hit $56 million to $57 million.'
The move to a new $6 million building two years ago has added to the success, he says. 'We have a 50,000-square-foot complex on 11 acres. It's the nicest building in town.'
He says business is up 40 percent since the move. It helps that the location, six miles from its original home, is more visible to passersby, he adds.
Brynteson says Ford officials for years had been asking his father-in-law, Herrick Garnsey, to invest in a new building. But he wasn't willing to spend the money until he knew he had a family successor.
The partners expect the next few years to be tight, especially if there is a downturn in the economy, but they are confident their good business sense, careful planning and reputable products will keep them thriving.
'We are definitely watching our inventory and trying to watch expenses,' Brynteson says. 'I always keep an eye on an exit strategy. If things start turning, what are some of the steps I will take?'
In September, his operation took over McAlister Motors, a small dealership - 'It has less than $5 million in sales annually' - in a rural area about 50 miles away. The main reason for the purchase was that 'Ford asked us to,' Brynteson says, saying he knew if he didn't acquire it, a non-Ford dealer in the area would have 'given his eye teeth for it.'
He says the second outlet, in Fort Morgan, now also is called Garnsey & Wheeler Ford and is treated like a satellite office rather than a separate store.
The longevity of the business and the reputation of its owners, who have included Garnsey and his father, William, offer some security, Brynteson says.
'They have always been extremely active in the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club,' he says. 'I think that is one of the biggest things they had going for them.'
Garnsey, 63, is less visible in the store these days, but he still has a hand in the business, Brynteson says.
'We work hard at staying in touch and communicating with each other,' Brynteson says. 'Some of my strengths are his weaknesses, and some of my weaknesses are his strengths.'
He says he is fortunate to have a good working relationship with the factory. Ford has been very supportive of the dealership - in fact, company officials insisted that no franchises be added to the new structure - he says. But, admittedly, there are frustrations.
Brynteson's biggest complaint is that 'very few people from the factory have front-line retail experience.'
Brynteson says much of the business's success stems from his professional and loyal sales staff. A plus, he says, is that many have worked only for Garnsey & Wheeler Ford. A minus is that since they have worked only for Ford, they don't respond to competitive pressures as much.
'We really have tried to be a little more patient, tolerant and caring for our people,' he says. 'We really want to help them grow.'