Family business thrives in smalltown atmosphere: DeBoer Chevrolet has been part of Edgerton since late '40s
EDGERTON -- As the snow begins to melt, Edgerton's Main Street comes alive with people braving the still-chilly weather. In a small community that boasts a fair share of locally owned businesses, DeBoer Chevrolet has called downtown Edgerton home for more than 52 years.
First opened and franchised by John W. DeBoer in November 1947, DeBoer Chevrolet has remained in the family ever since. Once transferred to John's sons in 1970, the business came into the hands of grandson Stewart Kreun and longtime service manager Jerry Evink in 2005.
Growing weary of his job as a business development manager for Motorola Communications, Kreun left his busy travel schedule and hectic way of life in Minneapolis in order to relocate his wife and kids to Edgerton and take over the family car dealership. When it came time to get serious about purchasing the business, Kreun teamed up with Evink and together they became co-owners of the establishment.
"I was tired of the extensive travel around North America, spending 65-70 percent of my work week out of state," Kreun said. "My uncles were looking to retire and Jerry was the service manager here for 34 years so he was a staple here. It just made a lot of sense to purchase the business together."
Becoming part-owner of the car dealership was not Kreun's first time to work in the auto industry. His memories go back to a childhood spent visiting his grandfather at the DeBoer family car business.
From 1982-1990 Kreun worked as a truck sales manager at a Willmar dealership, but his plans after that took him for a 15-year ride through the computer industry in sales and business development.
"I didn't necessarily plan on buying the business down the road," Kreun said.
But after taking some MBA classes at St. Thomas and with his background in auto sales and interest in business development, the auto dealership seemed a great opportunity for Kreun and Evink.
The only new car dealership in Edgerton, DeBoer Chevrolet has consistently been one of the top performing dealers in the Dealer 120 group. Kreun said the business' customer satisfaction index runs 99-to-100 percent month-to-month.
"We really pride ourselves in small-town local treatment," he said. "We don't have a high-pressure commission sales force here. People get to come in and purchase from the owners, deal directly with Jerry and me."
Although Kreun's grandfather passed away in 1974, he'd most likely be proud of the selection of 85-to-100 vehicles available at his grandson's dealership.
"That's a pretty good selection for this area and the size of our town," Kreun said.
That selection of vehicles, as well as the history behind the family business and its services, brings in customers from surrounding communities.
"We have families that live in Rapid City and Minneapolis that come back here with their children or their grandchildren and look to buy from us once again," Kreun said.
Kreun attributes the Internet with some of the extended sales territory as well. Citing customers coming from South Dakota and passing by their own local dealerships to buy from DeBoer, Kreun said there's a level of trust that happens at a small store like his.
"The Internet has drastically impacted our business, really expanded it out beyond the local area of selling cars," he said. "The consumer has become so much savvier through the Internet, which lets them shop for cars in the comfort of their own home."
While the Internet has had a positive effect on vehicle sales, the economy has created an ongoing battle for the auto industry. Kreun said what that hurt the auto industry, and the economy as a whole, was $4per-gallon gas.
"(Gas prices) have hurt the auto industry more, at least around here, than what the economy actually has," he said. "Being that we are in an agriculturally based economy, we have not seen quite the downturn in sales quite like in the metro areas."
While the auto industry as a whole saw sales decrease 30 to 40 percent, DeBoer Chevrolet recorded sales down only 15 percent in an 8-to-10 month period.
"Since the first of the year our sales have been strong, both used and new vehicles," Kreun said. "I attribute that to the new products that General Motors has and the quality of products such as the new Equinox, Traverse, Malibu and Silverado trucks that have all received the Consumer Digest Best Buy Awards.
"People are finally realizing they can locally purchase an American-made vehicle and have local service for it."
Kreun identifies service as the most important selling factor to customers. As technology continues to advance and the computer systems in new vehicles become more sophisticated, the software will only be available to manufacturers themselves.
"That's the difference there," Kreun said. "With the level of technology increasing in the vehicles year after year, certified service is and will continue to be a very integral part of the automotive industry moving forward."
As a fully certified GM service facility, DeBoer Chevrolet has the software and technology from GM to work on the cars independent dealers do not because of limited software access in their markets.
Since 2005, when the Supreme Court sided with the auto manufacturers and said they don't have to release the software codes to the independent dealers anymore, franchise dealerships hold the key to diagnosing vehicle problems.
"That's why it's going to be really important to look for a company that has reputable service," Kreun said.
Attempting to uphold the reputation the family business began to establish back in the 1940s, Kreun and company commit to a personalized approach to customer service as well as community involvement outside their own business.
"We strongly support both the public and private school systems. When things come up, we try to do what we can," Kreun said.
Both Evink and Kreun have taken their turns on the school board, and Kreun was president of the Chamber of Commerce for a while. DeBoer is also active in the Murray County Speedway, sponsoring cars for the races.
"As far as local community support, we're probably as strong as we can be," he said. "Do we have a special favorite thing that we donate to? No, because we donate to all of them. We try and support the best we can any activity from the schools or churches that come our way."
That very community involvement is inevitable in the small yet thriving Edgerton business district.
"One thing I notice after not living here for many years and moving back from the metro is Edgerton is unique because of its business climate and local support from our area as well as the businesses that support the local efforts of the schools and churches," Kreun said. "And that complete cycle tends to support our local businesses. When you drive down Main Street, you don't see any empty businesses. People love to come here to do business."
Kreun has heard many stories of people coming from 40 to 50 miles away to shop in the Edgerton area. Whether it's the local furniture store or the irresistible bakery, patrons pass the stores in their own communities to visit Edgerton's charming and unique shops.
"It's a unique characteristic Edgerton has -- pretty wholesome values, business values, and I think people appreciate that," Kreun said.
"It just amazes me; we've been here six years now and every once in a while my wife will say, 'Sometimes it just blows me away how busy Main Street Edgerton is for a small town.'
"That's the kind of thing that Edgerton Main Street draws people from the surrounding area, Minneapolis and Sioux Falls with. Not just our business, but all those businesses and the uniqueness of some of the stores."
Edgerton's business district not only thrives on outof-town shoppers, but relies on their business as the nearly 1,000 residents don't have enough buying power alone to support local fare.
"It's neat to see in a business like this someone come in from 100 miles away and say, 'My grandpa always bought his cars here and my dad did too and I remember coming in here as a little kid.' Those kinds of things are cool," Kreun said.
When asked if he intends to keep the business in the family for another 50 years, and acknowledging his two boys and Evink's two older children, Kreun said, "It's a great business but we put a lot of hours in ourselves. We kind of like to keep it that way.
"We have not done any real successor planning at this point."