Chamber Business of the Year
Gary Gruner knew he wanted out of Southern California, he had enough of that place.
He wanted to buy a nice dealership and retire with his wife, Tina, in a place they would enjoy.
Well, they found Madras.
After taking over the Chevrolet-Buick-GMC dealership from the McDonald family in 2006, Gruner was honored by the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce as the 2012 Business of the Year on Thursday at a Chamber After Hours event at Nail Couture.
While the award is typically given out during the awards dinner, which was Saturday, the Gruners had a prior engagment in Seattle over the weekend and couldn't make the dinner. That prompted the Chamber staff to deliver the award a couple days early to a very surprised Gruner.
The funny thing about not knowing he had won the award is that Gruner is on the Chamber Board of Directors, the group that decides who wins.
"They did a fantastic job concealing it," Gruner said with a laugh. "I was just so thrilled to receive it."
Gruner, the president of the dealership, bought the business after a search up and down the West Coast. When the GMC brass showed up some dealerships in Arizona and Utah, he nixed those ideas quickly and said he wanted to find a place in either Oregon or Washington.
Enter, the McDonald family from Madras.
Gruner said Ron and Joan McDonald, the prior owners of the business, couldn't have been more helpful when it came to purchasing and taking over the dealership. Gruner's respect for the McDonald family is paramount, and he holds the entire family in the higest regard.
"I just can't thank them enough for helping me out with it," Gruner said. "They have always had my back, and I hope I am making them proud."
Ron stayed on with Gruner for a couple month after the sale to make sure things were running smoothly and introduced him to all the regular customers, something Gruner said was a huge help.
"They have been great," Gruner said of the McDonalds. "I just hope I can follow in their footsteps the best I can."
Gruner said Ron still drops in every now and then to see how things were going, and when he was buying the buiness, the interviews and questions came more from the McDonalds than GM.
It seemed like destiny for Gruner to take over the business. For one, both Gary and Tina didn't want to retire, or even spend more time, in Ventura County.
"I was done with the bureaucracy in California," Gary said. "I had put the word out with some friends in General Motors, and they found a bunch of dealerships that I could potentially buy."
After sifting through the results and not really finding one that stood out as something he and his wife were thinking of, Madras popped out.
He asked the General Motors brass where Madras was, and they replied with, "We don't know."
"I guess they wanted to to Google it, or something," he joked. "I was on my own."
His first visit to Madras, Gruner said, he fell in love with the town.
In his second visit, he had made up his mind. Even if General Motors hadn't approved his purchase of the dealership, he was going to move here, anyway.
"I signed the purchase agreement for escrow on the tailgate of a pickup," he said. "When that happens, you know things are going to be different."
Surviving the downsize
It hasn't been all fun and games for General Motors and their dealerships the past few years. The company has closed down stores left and right after they went into bankruptcy in 2011, and it looked like the Madras location could have been on the chopping block, along with Redmond and Bend spots.
"It looked like a really good idea to buy a GM dealdership in 2006," Gruner said. "After they went into bankrupcy, things were a bit shaky."
Gruner's store was able to survive while GM closed down two stores that had been serving Central Oregon for more than 140 years combined. Gruner had been in the area for two.
But Gruner said, quite simply, why his dealership was able to make it and be the only GM dealer in Central Oregon.
"We out-performed everyone," he said. "The folks in Bend had a huge uproar about it, and how they could keep a little store in Madras open and close theirs. Highway 97 is not a one-way road."
Gruner has made it a point to give back to youth programs in the area. He said that's been his philosphy for the 30 years he's been in business with GM, and he'll continue to do that until he's no longer on Earth.
"What it costs me to run commercials on television for a month, I can buy two or three animals at the fair," Gruner said. "That's always been my deal. You can't worry about all the other cities around you. If you get your local community behind you and support it, things will be fine."
Gruner sees pumping money back into programs, especially ones for youth, as a "no brainer."
He has bought animals at the fair, sponsored Madras High School athletics, Jefferson County Little League and the Jefferson County Kids Club in the past and will continue his trend of giving back.
"I want to give back in any way I can," Gruner said. "We're going to continue what we've always done."
Dealership to undergo facelift
Gruner Chevrolet is going to have a new look in the coming months, thanks the the GM Image Requirement, Gruner said.
When describing the plan, he said the remodel inside the dealership, the showroom, offices and sales floor, is mostly finished. Now it's time for the outside to have its turn at receiving a makeover, and it's something Gruner has made it a point to hire only local workers to do.
"We're in major facelift mode right now," Gruner said. "I'm doing my best to hire all local contractors and use them to do the work."
Gruner said he'd much rather have local folks work on the project, rather than try to bargain hunt for cheaper prices from out-of-area firms because he wants to keep his money around here as much as possible.
"If I have to spend a few more bucks to keep it local, I'm going to do it," he said.
With all of that, Gruner said the award was very humbling and thrilling to receive, but that he doesn't do it for the awards. He does it for the people of Madras and the community.