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Built Tough: Borgman Ford Celebrates 50 Years

September 23rd, 2010

When Fred Borgman opened the doors on his Ford dealership in 1960, a house cost $12,000, a Galaxy sold for $2006, and a $100 a week was a “real good living wage.” The internet was a military secret and the Ford Mustang was barely a concept car. Cars came with standard transmissions, heaters and radios, and ran on gasoline that cost 25 cents a gallon. Fifty years later, the founding Borgman stood in the gleaming showroom of Borgman Ford Mazda on 28th Street and Ivanrest, surrounded by what once seemed “sci-fi”: cars that talk, park, and sync with your computer.

“There are so many more features and options, it’s unbelievable. I never thought I’d see the day we’d be selling some Ford models for $50,000,” he said.

Today, he’s wearing his legendary “Red Coat” that has stood for service and fair deals throughout the decades. He’s getting ready to join his son and present owner, John Borgman, and grandson, Matt Borgman, as they usher in the next 50 years at a ceremony featuring Ford reps, Grandville Mayor Buck and the Grandville Jenison Chamber of Commerce.

Fred credits his “Red Coat” idea for the corporate ethics that have helped the company thrive.

“That was the best advertising I ever did – it keep our folks honest because you can’t run away or hide out in public when you’re wearing a red coat,” he chuckled.

He was first encouraged to go into business for himself by his many Ford associates when he was a manager at another dealership.

“I wanted to prove that you could be honest and make a profit in this business. You don’t have to lie or cheat to be a success,” Fred said.

“When other dealers rolled back speedometers, we never did. We really made our reputation on the quality of our sales people.”

Borgman also pioneered the idea of  “professional” sales people by offering a base salary plus commission, which was uncommon at the time. His reasoning was that he would be better able to keep great staff if he treated them well, and that his customers would benefit from such loyalty and stability in an industry with high turnover.  Today, Borgman employs more than 100 community members, many who’ve racked up decades of service.

In 1973, Fred’s son John finished a stint in the service and at age 22 joined the dealership. He worked 40-hour weeks in sales and leasing while finishing his college degree.

During the proclamation ceremony, John Borgman described his family’s formula for success despite economic adversity, technological advent, and fragmented markets.

“Our success doesn’t lie in anything I have done. Our success has come from three things: first, our employees, who are dedicated to old fashioned values; secondly, a loyal community of customers now in second and third generations, and thirdly, a manufacturer committed to building quality vehicles that are fun to drive. No company could succeed for 50 years without these three things,” he said.

Under John’s direction, Fred’s vision continues to flourish. Craig Beyerle, Zone Manager for Ford Motor Co., credits the pair for “paying attention and doing all the right things” when there have been so many changes in the marketplace.

“The biggest change is the way the customer shops, and the biggest challenge for dealerships is that people shop on the internet. It has changed the way people buy cars dramatically,” Beyerle said.

But Borgman customers know that their community dealer will not be undersold and that they’ll enjoy Red Coat, hometown service.

Regional Manager for Ford Motor Co., Bob Smythe, acknowledged that service with a commemorative plaque, and was one of many Ford execs, including CEO Alan Mullaly, to personally congratulate the family.

”It’s great to have you in the family for 50 years. You are the face of Ford in the community.”


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