Sandy car dealership celebrates 30 years of family ownership

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Suburban Fords 30-year facelift will adhere to the Ford Motor Companys new design standards, but without the metal details. Suburbans owners (left to right), Nancy Jaksich, daughter Erinn Sowle and Jerry Jaksich, submitted an optional plan to Ford that would allow the exterior of the building to conform with Sandy-styles use of brick and stone.

There’s a lot to be said for a father’s advice.

“Dad told me to always do the right thing and take care of the customer,” said Nancy Jaksich, co-owner of Suburban Ford in Sandy. “He said if we did that, they would always be loyal.”

Pete Carlson’s long-ago wisdom to his daughter has proven to be sound for Nancy and her husband, Jerry. The owners of Suburban Ford have been taking care of generations of customers for 30 years.

Their pride in those long-term relationships has established the business as one of the leading Ford dealerships in the Northwest and earned Suburban the Ford Motor Company’s prestigious President’s Award for sales 12 times, a record.

But keeping the business in the family, and treating employees and customers like family, isn’t just a recipe for success. It’s tradition.

A native Oregonian, Nancy was raised amid the smell of motor oil and new car upholstery. The elder Carlson owned a used car business in Portland before opening a Chevrolet dealership in Sandy in 1968. Nancy went to work for her father in 1970, learning the business from the ground up and eventually taking on the role of office manager.

She left Oregon in 1973, headed for California, and went to work for an Oldsmobile dealership in Sacramento. Her goal was to glean more experience in the industry, come home and eventually take over her father’s Chevrolet dealership.

She returned in 1977 with a husband and business partner in tow.

“Jerry and I met down there and got married down there,” Nancy said. “We came up here because this is where the opportunity was. And we missed the Pacific Northwest.”

Meanwhile, the Ford Motor Co. approached Carlson, asking if he knew of anyone who was willing to reopen a dealership in Sandy that had been closed for two years.

Carlson suggested his son-in-law.

Longtime Gresham residents, the Jaksichs opened Suburban Ford in January 1984 on the corner of Highway 26 and Ten Eyck Road. A trailer served as the sales office. It was a tempestuous time for Ford, Jerry said, given that the car manufacturer had been hit hard by the recession and was struggling financially.

“Back then, they were starting to click, but there was still that question of whether they would survive,” Jerry said. “Our first sales objective from Ford was to sell one car. I thought, ‘Even I can do that.’ We opened with 16 employees and couldn’t afford much, so Nancy, (longtime office manager) Lynne Fischer and I did a lot of the cleaning and painting ourselves. We sold 30 cars that first month.” by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Nancy Jaksich (left) and husband Jerry posed in front of their first delivery of Ford vehicles in 1984. The couple opened the dealership on Highway 26 and Ten Eyck Road, using a trailer as a sales office.

By the mid-1990s, the Jaksichs’ Ford store and Carlson Chevrolet, which had been on the corner of Pioneer and Proctor boulevards, were both experiencing growing pains.

The dealerships were landlocked, with no room for expansion.

In May 1995, the Jaksichs moved the Ford dealership to its current location on a 23-acre site Carlson had purchased earlier. Soon after, with Carlson making noises about retirement, the Jaksichs entered into negotiations with Chevrolet to represent the company and combine both dealerships under the name of Suburban Auto Group.

“A lot of people think that dad just hands over a dealership,” Nancy said. “But it’s not like that any more. Now, you have to fill out all the applications and go through the process just like non-related people.”

Pete Carlson retired in 1996, shortly after Nancy purchased the Chevrolet dealership from her father. In January 2000, Suburban Chevrolet opened next door to the Ford store, creating a complex that includes a detail and repair shop, tire store and accessory sales. The company now employs more than 100 people between the two dealerships

Today, 70 percent of Suburban Ford’s sales are to customers who don’t reside in Sandy. Many are repeat buyers, who refer family members and friends because of Suburban’s reputation for customer service.

The dealership has come a long way from that initial sale of 30 vehicles back in 1984, now selling 200 new and used cars each month. And a remodel of the building, to meet Ford’s new design standards, is scheduled for completion in mid-March.

“We’re following Sandy-style, with rock and brick,” Nancy said. “We had to propose a design to Ford because Sandy-style doesn’t allow for metal. We’re calling it our 30-year facelift.”

The Jaksichs and Suburban Ford also continue to honor their deep community roots. Annually, since May 2000, the dealership hosts a Cruise-In for car buffs, as a benefit for Guide Dogs for the Blind in Boring. The company provides scholarships to two students each year at four area high schools, including Sandy and Estacada, and is a big supporter of the Automotive Student Service Educational Training (ASSET) program at Mt. Hood Community College. More than 80 percent of the technicians employed by Suburban Ford come from the ASSET program, Nancy said.

Many of Suburban’s employees, from the office to the sales and service departments, have been with the company since the beginning, Jerry said. Their longevity and the dedication by all of Suburban’s staff is celebrated each summer with a company picnic for employees and their families.

Nancy and Jerry also are preparing for the future, as two of their four children take their place in the family business. Daughter Erinn Sowle came on board in 1996 as general manager for the Ford store and is now an owner. Their youngest daughter, Megan, began working at the dealership in customer relations eight months ago.

“(Megan’s) been here since the cradle,” Jerry said laughing. “We changed her diapers on the showroom floor.”

With the next generation gradually taking over the reins, are there plans for retirement?

“Jerry and I are working our way out the door,” Nancy said. “But when you’re involved in the community, you never really leave. I’m sure they’ll find something for us to do.”

Contract Publishing

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