Throughout its 100 years, Tenvoorde Motor Co., the oldest family-owned Ford dealership, has risen and fallen with the tides of the auto industry. But that is just part of automotive retailing for the St. Cloud, Minn., dealership, which was established on March 21, 1903, three months before Ford Motor Co. was incorporated.
"Being in business that long, we've learned to roll with the tide," says Jack Tenvoorde, grandson of the dealership's founder. "Our philosophy is that personnel will come and go, the economy will rise and fall, but we've been here 100 years and will continue to be here."
In this era of consolidation and publicly owned dealerships, Tenvoorde Motor Co. remains a family-owned and operated store. Jack Tenvoorde owns it with his brothers, Paul and David.
Jack Tenvoorde recently turned the day-to-day operations over to his son, Mike. Another son and a daughter also work in the dealership, as does one of his grandchildren. The fifth-generation Tenvoorde is a newcomer, starting as all family members did: washing cars.
"It's in our blood," Jack Tenvoorde says. "We all started by washing cars and worked our way up. There's no silver spoon in this family."
Economy and product
Jack Tenvoorde, who started working in the dealership more than 40 years ago when it was owned by his father, Cy Tenvoorde, said the economy and product are two crucial factors for dealerships.
That combination almost did the dealership in during World War II, as it did many dealerships.
Cy Tenvoorde, who nursed the dealership through the Depression when he was a teenager, took over in 1943 when his father, founder Steve Tenvoorde, died. He had no new cars to sell because of the war. He laid off all but one salesman and concentrated on car repair including preparing used cars for sale. Against the odds, the dealership grew.
Another of the company's difficult years was 1977. The United States had been rocked by an oil crisis. That led to an economic downturn as well as an onslaught of small, fuel-efficient cars - something Ford didn't have - from overseas. The dealership spewed red ink throughout 1977, after being profitable since the 1940s.
The current economic climate and the war with Iraq have been a challenge. Tenvoorde Motor is selling about 600 fewer vehicles a year than it did at Ford's peak in the late 1990s. In 2002, sales totaled 3,600 new and used vehicles.
But Jack Tenvoorde is optimistic.
At left: From left to right, Paul, Jack and David Tenvoorde. At right: Steve and Rose Tenvoorde in 1912.
"The level of enthusiasm at our spring dealer meeting in Orlando was as high as I've ever seen," he says. "The mood of the dealers is very positive, especially because of the upcoming product. Dealers are at the mercy of the product - and the quality of the product. We have promising products coming, and the quality is picking up."
Another key factor for dealers is relations with the factory.
At Ford, dealer relations reached a low point in the late 1990s. Ford implemented a plan to buy and operate dealerships and instituted dealer standards under its Blue Oval program. The factory purchase of dealerships has ended, and current Ford management has been improving relations with dealers.
A different world
The dealership - and the automotive retailing world - has changed dramatically since Henry Ford established Ford Motor and the Tenvoorde family opened its dealership in 1903.
General Manager Mike Tenvoorde, 32, oversees a large and complicated business.
Mike spends most of his time recruiting and trying to keep good employees. The dealership employs 155 people.
"It's a difficult task because there's lots of competition for good employees, not just from other dealerships but from all businesses," he says.
Mike is moving the dealership into the world of high technology and recently added a second person in the Internet department. He offers customers the opportunity to make service appointments by e-mail.
Like the auto business, dealerships have changed dramatically through the years.
After receiving the first shipment of Ford vehicles, dealership founder Steve Tenvoorde built his first sales outlet, a one-story brick building in downtown St. Cloud. He remodeled in 1916, adding a two-story addition that included a five-car showroom and service area on the lower level and a body repair shop upstairs.
Cy Tenvoorde built a new dealership in 1951, paying in cash.
The dealership moved to its present location in 1978, in celebration of its 75th anniversary.
Says Jack Tenvoorde: "Of course, we didn't pay cash for that one."