Gunther Motor Co.: From cows to Wi-Fi in 50 years
When the Gunther family opened its first car dealership on State Road 7 in Fort Lauderdale, cows grazed across the street. That was 1970, and their Volkswagen store was lucky to sell 75 cars per month.
Today, Gunther Motor Co. has grown to six South Florida dealerships, employing more than 500 people. Last year, the family business sold more than 13,000 new and used vehicles.
Now, under the helm of its second generation, the company is investing more than $27 million to stay competitive in a business that increasingly demands classy showrooms with Wi-Fi and big inventories.
Gunther is finishing a $16 million expansion of its Kia outlet in Fort Lauderdale and just opened an $8 million addition to its Volkswagen store in Coconut Creek. It soon will start a $3 million upgrade on its original State Road 7 store that’s been nipped and tucked repeatedly as urbanization took root.
“That Volkswagen store has more plastic surgery than Joan Rivers,” joked folksy principal Joseph “Jay” Gunther, 59, during a tour of its high-tech Kia store down the street from its previous one. “That’s why when it came to this store, I said we’re going to do it right from the get-go.”
The Gunthers entered the car business in South Florida during a simpler time.
Back then, Jay Gunther recalls, a Volkswagen Beetle sold for $1,699, about the same as a Toyota Corolla. Air conditioning in cars was an extra. Land was affordable. And entrepreneurs could start up new dealerships with little cash.
“Today, the business is so capital intensive,” Gunther said, “the average guy is going to have a real tough time getting in.”
Indeed, to buy its new Volvo-Volkswagen store in Delray Beach, led by a third-generation Gunther, the company sold a store in Atlanta. And it could afford to invest $16 million in the new Kia store because it already owned the site that once held a bowling alley where Jay Gunther hung out in his youth.
What hasn’t changed in the business and won’t, Gunther said, is the need for good customer service.
“People have such low expectations of car dealerships that it’s not hard to exceed them,” Gunther joked. “In fact, most people would rather have a root canal than go through the process of buying a car. We just try to make it as painless as possible.”
Personal attention is what prompted Katie Cook and her father, Glen, to buy at Gunther Mazda.
They were looking for a car as Katie’s high school graduation present and decided on a Mazda 3. After checking several stores, they felt best with a Gunther saleswoman whose office is filled with thank-you notes from customers. Saleswoman Jodi Weisfeld patiently answered their questions on four visits.
“We absolutely loved her,” said Katie Cook, 18, of Plantation. “She seemed to really care about her customers and not push anything on us.” After Katie got her car, she sent Weisfeld a thank-you note.
Even Gunther’s larger rivals recognize the family’s steady progress in the changing marketplace.
“The Gunther family has always been a good competitor,” said Marc Cannon, spokesman for AutoNation, the country’s largest dealership chain. “And they continue to evolve and invest in their stores and in their consumers.”
Walking through the new Kia building, which can hold 1,500 cars, Gunther still marvels how far the family from Missouri and its business has come. He recalls growing up, “playing with sticks. We had zero.”
“I never lose sight of that perspective,” Gunther said humbly. “I never thought we’d be this big.”
ARTICLE SOURCE: Hemlock,Doreen (2015). Gunther Motor Co.: From cows to Wi-Fi in 45 years. Retrieved January 28, 2020, from https://www.sun-sentinel.com/