I feel that I must give you a little history about our family and our business in order for you to understand why I had to make a U-Turn!
I’m a third-generation new-car dealer in Danville, Va., and my family has been in the car business for more than 70 years. My grandfather, Tony Blackwell, started out as a mechanic at the local Buick store. After working there for 14 years, he decided to open his own repair shop and Blackwell Auto Repair was born in 1940. Because of my grandfather’s reputation as a skilled, honest mechanic, customers began bringing their Buicks to his shop for their service needs.
In addition to servicing cars, Tony would repair and sell used cars as well. People enjoyed buying a car from a mechanic they knew and trusted. Blackwell Motor Co. was formed in 1941 and grew faster than expected because of my grandfather’s reputation as one of the area’s best mechanics. My father, Tom Blackwell, grew up turning wrenches with his father, and he also became a fine mechanic over the years. The father-and-son team would work side by side late into the night finishing work on their customers’ cars. From mechanical repairs to body work and painting, Blackwell Motor Co serviced all makes and models.
Ferguson Tractor, Austin-Healey, Hudson, Rambler, and American Motors were the brands that my grandfather represented during his first 20 years as a dealer. In 1967, the Dodge franchise was purchased, and the Blackwells moved into a new dealership. In those days, cars that weren’t GM or Ford products were considered
“off-brand” cars; always selling the off-brand, new cars meant that Blackwell Motor Co. had to appeal to the consumer in different ways. It was not always price, but the way that the Blackwells took care of their customers like family that made the difference. My grandfather and father would trade for anything to help someone get into a nicer, newer car—guns, land, houses, livestock, tractors, lawn mowers, watches and more were commonly accepted trades in those days.
Blackwell’s advertising was seen as controversial by other dealers in Danville. Full-page newspaper ads with lots of pictures and radio events touting the theme of the month kept the local dealers wondering what Tony and Tom would do next. A father and son running a dealership by gut instinct while treating people
like family was proving to be successful. My father eventually bought the dealership and expanded into three stores representing several new-car franchises such as Chrysler, Plymouth, Jeep, Eagle, GMC Trucks, Lincoln Mercury, Fiat, Toyota and Kia.
I consider my father as the maverick of the car business in our Danville market. He was never afraid of a challenge and, in the Blackwell entrepreneurial way, always looking for the next opportunity. In the early 70s, when he expanded into a market 30 miles away with a new dealership, the manufacturers were still
frowning on the idea of one dealer owning multiple franchises in several markets. In the decades to come, the manufacturer mentality would reverse itself and agree that my father’s model was a good one.
My father, now 83 years old, still visits the dealership weekly—arriving in his Dodge Magnum. He enjoys striking up conversations with customers in the lounge and making sure that they are satisfied. A devout Christian, my father keeps a basket of miniature scripture books in the lounge for customers to pick
up if they wish. He is constantly refilling this basket with miniature Bibles. His entrepreneurial spirit along with his faith have guided this business and made him into one of the area’s most reputable dealers.
TORREY’S EARLY DAYS
My pretend dealership from childhood was made up of a Matchbox and Hot Wheels collection. Cars, trucks, jeeps, vans and a miniature service department complete with a gas station made up my pretend Blackwell Dodge. I would wash my tricycle and pretend to gas it up like I worked in the detail department and then arrange my lot for a big sale. I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up: be the boss at my Dad’s dealership! Childhood dreams became a reality. I graduated from the University of Richmond in 1989; after working at the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association, I decided it was time to head home and get into the family business. My fiancee and I moved back home and got married; and I dove head first into the dealership.
But transitions like this are never smooth. Employees were often resentful of the boss’ son being at the store. I had lots of ideas and wanted to change things for the better. I had attended finance and insurance school in Dearborn, Mich., and came back ready to set the woods on fire. I still remember a classmate talking
about sending credit applications to banks over a facsimile machine. When I returned from school I was ready to add this awesome new technology to our store. I still remember the sales manager saying that he did not understand why we needed a fax machine. He continued to argue that we could just pick up the phone and call the bank. I still don’t understand why people always fight change!
After successfully running several of our dealerships since 1990, in 2006, I built an impressive 38,000 square-foot dealership for Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Kia franchises in Danville. In the beginning, business was good, but soon the price of gas went through the roof and the financial crisis of 2009 brought
everything to a halt. Business was bad. I now had huge overhead with a new building, and Chrysler was filing for bankruptcy. I still remember my Chrysler sales representative calling me to say that no one was safe in this bankruptcy. However, when the list of surviving dealers came out we made the cut. I was relieved
but also sad as I watched several of my dealer friends lose everything overnight.
Soon Chrysler Financial made their dealer body aware that they were no longer going to provide lines of credit for inventory. Luckily, GMAC/Ally announced an interim floor plan for Chrysler dealers to keep them in business. I was relieved, but this interim line of credit was not sufficient to operate, and it
took more cash than ever to keep the business running. But because the financial markets were in such a mess and Chrysler’s bankruptcy, GMAC/Ally was our only source. I was getting angrier by the minute. Business was tough enough without the banks pulling the rug out from under us. After months of negotiations, our interim floor plan was made permanent, and I vowed at that moment that something had to change. The Great Recession had made it almost impossible for me to
stay in business; in order to survive another downturn I needed to make some major changes.
The culture of our store needed a makeover, but in reality, I was the one who needed the biggest makeover. The Chrysler bankruptcy had taken its toll on my attitude. My father has always believed that when life gets tough you put everything in the Lord’s hands, pray about your situation, work harder, cut expenses and
you will survive. But I was working myself to death, and it was taking its toll. So, I began reading books about successful business owners, biographies of leaders, self-help books, books on spirituality and the Bible. These sources of inspiration rekindled my own spirit along with my faith, and I was determined to
change the atmosphere and attitude at Blackwell Automotive.
Over the years, the automobile manufacturers had succeeded in
making our buildings look the same, our promotions look the
same, and my dealership into a cookie-cutter, factory store. We
had the look, but over the years Blackwell had lost its identity.
Looking back through our history, I could see that my father and
grandfather had taken extreme risk and never conformed to the
marketing of the masses. They stood out as different kinds of
dealers. The owners were mechanics with high school educations
who could relate easily to their clients. Back in the day,
Blackwell Motor Co. would go to extreme measures to make a
deal. I remember as a child my dad trading for pigs, guns, land,
boats and trailers. Where had that spirit gone? I had failed to
keep that philosophy to the degree that my father and grandfather
Don’t get me wrong here, I always maintained the company
integrity and treated people with honor and respect, but somewhere
over the years I fell into the trap of following what the
manufacturers and other dealers were doing. That conformity
had killed my spirit and the identity of the store as well. I was
determined to take our dealership back to its roots and to have
fun again in the car business!
I would not go through another recession without the ability to
survive. The parts and service division got an overhaul—including
some much needed personnel and process changes to better
satisfy our customers. I met with all the employees and told them
what was expected and let them know if they didn’t change then
they would need to find a job elsewhere. I’m sorry to say that
we had some employee turnover, but in every case, the new employees
outperformed their old counterparts. To my delight, attitudes in every department began to change. The negativity that
stemmed from Chrysler’s bankruptcy receded, and the departments
began to flourish. The new employees were all thankful
for their jobs and appreciated working at Blackwell Automotive.
The service and parts division now had new personnel and new
processes along with some great long-term employees who had
always maintained the right attitude. We had only just begun.
The sales department needed an adjustment as well. The Chrysler
bankruptcy and the loss of stores by my friends made me aware
of just how close I had come to losing my dealership. I could
have been that credit-challenged father walking into a dealership
needing someone to help me find transportation. I vowed
that everyone, regardless of their credit score, would be treated
like family when they entered our store and that we would try
everything in our power to get them approved for a nicer, newer
car. I established relationships with several new banks to help
our credit-challenged customers get the car they deserved. Our
new mantra became “The Dealer For The People®” because I
wanted everyone to be treated equally no matter what their credit
situation. To facilitate this further, I changed my sales team
to a noncommissioned pay plan. Our noncommissioned salespeople
treat everyone like family, and they specialize in finding
solutions to our customers’ transportation problems. My store is
known as the “no fear zone” because our customers will not be
pressured by our sales professionals.
I started marketing our newfound culture using monthly promotions
with myself as the spokesperson for Blackwell Chrysler
Jeep Dodge Kia. I was proud to return to the roots of our dealership
with campaigns stating that we would trade for anything—
just like my father had done years earlier. I’ve traded for gold,
silver, coins, four wheelers, Harleys, boats, tractors, Gators,
trailers, Wii game systems and even a tanning bed in order to
make a deal happen!
I’m extremely proud of my noncommissioned sales staff members
who take pride in taking care of our customers just like family. And my credit approval gurus will do everything in their
power to get our customers approved. We will also go to the
extreme to locate the car of your dreams! If we don’t have what
you’re looking for, we’ll find it, guaranteed!
My service and parts staff will service any make or model just
like my father and grandfather did for decades. We stock parts
for all makes as well, and our Express Lane is open for fast oil
changes and more. If you’re in the market for a nicer, newer car
give us a call or visit us 24/7 at www.blackwellautos.com.
TIPS FOR CAR SHOPPERS
Here are some questions to ask and some insider information to be aware of the next time you go car shopping.
1. How long has the dealer been in business?
Longevity says a lot about the dealer’s commitment to
the community and its customers. A business that has
been around for decades means that the dealer has been
around during good times and bad and that they will
more than likely always be there to serve you. Some
dealers show up as the new kid on the block and then
in three to five years the store is sold, another person is
running the dealership, or it goes out of business. Look
for a store that has been around for a while under the
same ownership with a good reputation. These dealers
are the ones that you know, like and trust! They will
be there for service after the sale, and they will gladly
administer any service contract, gap, credit life and accident
and health insurance claims.
2. Does the name on the building represent the owner
or a minority partner thrown into the store to run it
for a large dealer group?
With the growth of mega-dealer groups, more and more
dealerships are owned by large dealers who place a minority
owner in the community to run the dealership. Even the advertising and the dealership make the community
think that the minority partner owns the whole
enchilada! Do your research and know who you are
dealing with and who is the majority owner of the dealership.
In most cases, minority owners can be moved
out quickly and another partner moved in over night.
3. Do the warranties and maintenance plans sound too
good to be true?
Lifetime warranties??? I can’t believe that people fall
for these every day! I have customers bringing in cars
to my service department every day wanting to know
if their lifetime warranty is still valid since the XYZ
dealer they bought the car from went out of business.
And in case after case, we have to tell them that we are
sorry, but that lifetime warranty was good only at the
store you purchased it from. These warranties have lots
of loopholes built in to make it advantageous for the
dealer and the insurance company—not the consumer.
Usually all required services must be performed at the
dealership and if you miss just one by a few miles then
your claim can be rejected. Remember—if it sounds
too good to be true then it probably is!
4. Is the owner available and working at the store, or is
he or she an absentee dealer?
Many dealers are not available, and they rarely even
come into the store. Ask your sales professional if you
can meet or talk with the owner. This step is important
because if issues arise down the road with your automobile
or warranty then you want to know that the
owner is there to handle the situation.
5. Take a tour of the service and parts department
before you agree to buy your next car.
This is one of the most important aspects of a dealership.
You should ask to meet the service and parts mangers
before you buy your next car. The departments should be clean, and the technicians should be trained and
certified to work on your new car. Surprisingly, some
dealers actually neglect the training of their service and
parts personnel. Does the service division offer convenient
hours, shuttle service, express lane service and a
nice customer lounge? You should be impressed by the
managers and their departments!
6. What is the atmosphere of the store?
Do you like the feel of the dealership when you enter
the building? Is it clean, and is the staff friendly and
helpful? Are you offered popcorn, a bottle of water or
a soda? In my opinion, you should feel like you just
entered a friend’s house when you walk into a dealership.
That first impression should tell you a lot about
the dealership and the owner’s commitment to the customer.
7. How are the salespeople paid? Do they work on
The majority of salespeople are paid a commission
based on the gross profit of the transaction. That pay
system means it a salesperson’s goal to get you to pay
the MOST possible for the car of your dreams. Noncommissioned
sales professionals are paid a salary and
then a bonus when a car is sold. Their compensation
is not related to the profit on your purchase; therefore,
they can spend time finding solutions to your automotive
problems instead of pushing a product on you that
you don’t want. A noncommissioned sales team shows
the dealers’ commitment to the consumer!
8. Will the store trade for anything?
Many stores will refuse to trade for anything that is not
an automobile, and that practice really shows a lack of
commitment to the customer. Think about it! If a dealer
is trying to help you buy your dream car, then the dealer
should at least be willing to look at anything that you have to trade. Sometimes customers need an additional
down payment as required by the lender but they never
think about the stuff in the garage that they could sell. A
dealer who wants your business should always be willing
to look at any items that you have for trade!
THE BLESSINGS OF ROOTS
Returning to the roots of Blackwell Motor Co. and bringing our
store back to the basics would not have been possible without
our wonderful team of employees and our customers. Our business
has been blessed with many customers who have become
our friends and members of the Blackwell Automotive Family.
I’m honored and humbled to still sit with customers every month
who bought cars from my father and grandfather!
Constant change and improvement is now a part of our dealership’s
culture. Some of our ideas that we implement are failures
and others are successful, but I believe that failure to implement
can cause the demise of any organization. New processes and
ideas as well as returning to our roots has brought about much
chaos, but I now love working to constantly improve and change
my store so that we can thrive for the next 70 years!
And I thank God every day for helping me find “FUN” once
again in the car business!
Here at Blackwell Chrysler Jeep Dodge Kia, we are a New and Used Car Dealership located in Danville, VA. Serving the surrounding Virginia communities of Martinsville, South Boston, Roanoke, Lynchburg, VA. Being on the border we also proudly serve our North Carolina neighbors to the south including but not limited to Greensboro, Raleigh, Durham, Roxboro, Burlington, Reidsville and Eden NC.
We take pride by specializing in Used Cars and Used Trucks here at Blackwell Chrysler Jeep Dodge Kia. Check out our daily used Car Specials and ask about our Guaranteed Financing programs. Blackwell Chrysler Jeep Dodge Kia is your stop for a "Worry Free" car buying experience. Torrey Blackwell is known as "The Dealer for the People" and refers to his dealership as a NO FEAR ZONE! So if you're in the market for a used car, truck or SUV from Ford, Lincoln, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, GMC, Toyota, Lexus, Nissan, Infiniti, Honda, Acura, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Volkswagen, Audi, Fiat, Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Kia, Hyundai, Volvo, and even Mercedes-Benz. We're your Dealership!
We're here to help, so for more information feel free to stop on by, visit our website or call us at: 434-792-8853