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Experience, quality, and service. Many businesses talk about them, Graham Automotive lives them. Locally owned by They Graham Companies, the dealership was originally named Soo Import. It was started in 1962 by Bill Graham and included only one franchise…Volkswagen. Its’ original location was attached to the Graham tire store on Minnesota Avenue between 9th and 10th streets.
Bill Graham started in the tire business in 1935. He worked for Goodyear and ran stores in Kearney, Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa. During World War II Goodyear opened a store in Sioux Falls and Bill managed that one also. In 1948 Bill left the tire business and became a partner with Ray Quinn in a Desoto-Plymouth dealership named Quinn Graham Motors. They had other dealership locations in the area also. In 1952 Bill’s share of the business was bought out by Ray and Bill was without a job. He then decided to return to the tire business and started his own store by the coliseum. It was not a Goodyear franchise, however, he made the store so successful that Goodyear sold him their stores in Sioux Falls in 1953. Bill’s two sons, Bob and Tom started in the business early on. Bob was managing the tire store in Spencer, Iowa in 1965 and younger brother Tom came back in 1967 to manage one of the Sioux Falls’ stores. In 1975 the talented car store manager, Merle Bosch, died of leukemia. Bill was also sick with cancer at that time. Tom remembers the call he received from his dad in which he told him that he would have to run the car dealership. Tom replied that he did not know anything about the car business and Bill responded that he would have to learn fast. Bill passed away less than a year later. Tom job changed from running a tire store to running a car store and supervising the operation of the tire stores, which were capably managed by M.D. (Pete) Pedersen. This arrangement worked well but by the mid 1990’s, with the number of tire stores in South Dakota and Nebraska increasing from 3 to 17, Tom realized that he needed to spend more time in that area so, in 1996, he invited Al Larimer to become his partner and General Manager of the car store. Al was previously the General Manager for the Lincoln Mercury dealership located.
Volkswagen wanted to have a standalone storefront so the original location was moved to the current Saab and Suzuki location on 41st Street in 1970. In 1974 they added the Audi (owned by Volkswagen) franchise. The Saab franchise was purchased from Don Cooper in 1987 and the Suzuki franchise was purchased from Ben Hur Ford in 1994. A new building was built in 2003 on what used to be the South Sioux grade school p r o p e r t y . The other location is home to their Saab and Suzuki franchises. They also have a certified used store across the street on 41st Street.
When asked what makes you different than your competitors, Al replied, “no hassle buying experience and German engineering at an affordable price”. Tom added, “In the early years we were lucky to sell 10 Volkswagens a month. However, the people that bought kept coming back because of the service”. Today many of those people are coming back to the same familiar faces they saw over 30 years ago. Service Manager Doug Hartman has worked for Graham since 1973. “I like working with people, I believe in the cars we service, and I get treated well by the management of this company”, says Hartman. “The reason people keep coming back is they see the same familiar faces as before. We do not have a revolving door. It is important that people know the people that work on their cars. People lose confidence in the establishment when personnel constantly changes. Our people stay because they get treated with respect and in return that’s how they deal with our customers. We have over 200 years experience in our service department with one service tech with over 40 years with Graham. Graham service has 12 service bays and nine mechanics and is open Monday thru Friday 7:30 AM to 6 PM and Saturday 7:30 Am to noon. They have loaner cars available for overnight service and cost-efficient rental cars available for same day service needs. Of course they also have a shuttle service to take you back home or work after you drop off your vehicle for service. Training is an important reason for Graham’s success. “We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars training our mechanics and sales people”, says Larimer. Every t e c h n i c i a n and service writer has to attend at least one instructor lead class every year. They also have another 24 hours of online training required. Graham has 5 master techs (the highest rating you can get). To receive master tech status you need at least 200 hours of training. When asked what they are doing to get ready for the new cars coming down the line, Hartman responded, “it is a constant training issue. Volkswagen is really focusing on Diesel technology. Today’s diesel engines burn cleaner and more efficient than ever. Although Graham sells other brands of used cars they do not service them. According to Hartman, “the knowledge necessary to work on today’s vehicles prohibits us from working on other models except the new car franchises we represent”. Similar to their service techs, all Graham sales people have to complete an ongoing sales training program, which includes product knowledge and factory training on the entire vehicle. They all participate online and have mandatory instructor led classes every year. They have to get re-certified every year in order to continue to sell these vehicles.
The Audi luxury brand is famous for the Quattro (four-wheel drive) system, which is second to none in the industry. For years, Audi has been the leader for fit and finish interior design. Many manufacturers try to emulate this but with little success. Audi cars have been recognized over the years by leading industry publications-the A6 was the world car of the year in 2006, the A8 has been rated the best full-size luxury sedan in the industry, and the A4, when re-designed in 2008, was rated number one for performance, handling, fit, and finish. Volkswagen, Audi’s parent company, is focused on clean burning diesel technology and the 2009 Jetta diesel is proof of that, being named Car of the Year, and attaining the number one status in overall fuel economy including all hybrids. VW’s, like Audis have an overall build quality superior to other competitors. VWs and Audi, don’t just look great, they all have high ratings when it comes to safety with the Jetta leading the way as the number one rated car in its class when it comes to safety.
They also have a long history of innovation, starting with the Beetle. For years VW was a niche marketer, meaning they only built vehicles that fit a specific group of buyers. This philosophy has changed over the last couple of years. Today, VW is the second largest car company in the world (second only to Toyota). They want to increase their presence in the US market which will require more sales. They are currently building a new plant in the United States to accommodate this aggressive growth. According to Larimer,“People are losing confidence in the American manufacturers. VW is stepping up their model offering to cater to these disenfranchised buyers. They are rolling out more new models than ever to spur this growth. The Toureg debuted in 2004, the smaller Tiguan in 2009 and the cc sport luxury sedan also in 2009. The Routon is also new for 2009. Audi has come out with the A5 2-door couple, the S5-a larger engine alternative to the A5, the Q7 tdi (diesel) and the Q5, a smaller SUV. We are taking more domestic trades than ever!”
Going green is an important growth strategy for Volkswagen. One of the big reasons for this is diesel technology is gaining traction. The old diesels that used to smoke and rattle are no more. Today’s VW diesel engines burn cleaner and run more efficiently than most cars including hybrids. Examples of this are the Jetta and the Toureg which boast 27 combined MPG. Because of its’ clean burning fuel efficiency, VW was the first manufacturer to get diesel approval in all 50 states. Recently, a husband and wife team set a Guinness World Record by completing a 4000 mile loop around the country in a Jetta diesel averaging just less than 59 MPG.
VW also leads the way in resale value. Kelly blue Book rated the entire brand number one in resale value, significantly ahead of the nearest competitor. The Jetta, EOS, and the Rabbit were the highest rated. Resale value is important because you get more when you trade your vehicle back in and also pay less with a lease because of the higher residual value of the vehicle when you turn it back in.
Suzuki is a large player in Japan but smaller in the United States. They are known mainly for their boat motors and motorcycles. Their strength and focus I on compact fuel efficient cars from the XL7 and Grand Vitara (both SUVs) to the SX4 4 door sedan which is available in front or all wheel drive. The SX 4 represents about half of their US sales. According to Sales Manager, Dave Bennett, “Suzuki is coming out with two new products this fall-the Kisashi, a midsize sedan available in front wheel drive or a 300 V-6 all wheel drive model. Also slated to debut in 2010 is the Swift-a subcompact car that is rated between 40-48 MPG.” In the past, when you bought a compact vehicle, safety was never mentioned. Today all Suzuki’s have a 4 or 5 star crash rating. Graham’s other franchise Saab is a Swedish company. Recently sold by General Motors to a Swedish company, Saab will be rolling out new models in the near future including an all-new Crossover named the 94 (pronounced nine four not ninety four). Saab got its’start manufacturing airplanes before WWII. When the war ended they began manufacturing cars. All Saabs have high safety ratings. The Saab of today is a very fuel efficient innovative company. “We are excited to meet the Saab of tomorrow”, says Bennett.
Quality and innovation do provide some rewards and Grahams’ franchises have plenty of them. Saab is rated as a top safety pick year in and year out by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Suzuki has been rated one of the most cost efficient, reliable, and lowmaintenance cars to own. Edmunds dot com just rated the VW cc as the most desirable sedan in the $20-$25, ooo range while the Tiguan was named the most desirable SUV in the $25,000 and under category.
Not everyone buys a new vehicle, that’s why Graham offers their certified used center. The Audi/VW Certified Used Center is located across the street from the new car dealerships and sells certified pre-owned vehicles. Certified vehicles are late model vehicles that come with an extended warranty that is administered by the manufacturer. These cars must pass an extended inspection process in order for the manufacturer to consider them a certified car. After the factory warranty is relinquished, the certified warranty takes effect. The VW certified warranty is for 2 years or 24,000 miles and the Audi is for 2 years up to 100,000 miles. According to Brad Carley, Sales Manager “certified vehicles give buyers the added assurance of an extended warranty. With the growth of the Internet, certified vehicles are becoming more popular because buyers know what they are getting”.
You can see how Graham delivers on experience, quality, and service. Graham Automotive, driven to satisfy.