Welcome to Garber Buick of Saginaw
On Friday, The Garber Buick Story
Legendary historical figures are hard to come by. But in the early 1900's when Guy S. Garber began his affiliation with Buick Motor Division, an automotive legend was born.
The year was 1907 and many thought that the horse and buggy would continue to be the way to travel. One notable exception was a young farm implement salesman of exceptional ability and bold vision. His name was Guy S. Garber, and he saw the automobile as the vehicle to the future.
His reputation as a salesman brought him to the attention of William C. Durant, founder of General Motors. At his urging, Guy Garber became a factory representative for Buick Motor Division. During his first six months he established one dealership, in Battle Creek, Michigan. His responsibility was management of the day-to-day operation.
His success there brought him to take on a greater challenge, coming to Saginaw in 1910 representing Buick. This was to become the key to his success with Buick and General Motors.... lasting a lifetime. Guy Garber shared the vision of the GM founder. America was headed for a golden automotive era.
Two years later Buick decided to withdraw from the retail car market and Garber with a partner, Edward Black, bought out Buick's interest for the Saginaw Valley. Their partnership continued until Black disposed of his holdings to John Collins. The firm continued as Garber -Collins - Buick Company, doing business in the 800 block of Genesee Avenue. Increasing volume necessitated larger quarters and a new location was secured at the corner of Janes and Baum streets.
Collins later disposed of his interest and Garber Buick continued in the retail field until 1913, when Garber, as sole owner of the dealership, was granted the wholesale responsibility for selling Buicks from Saginaw County north to the Straits of Mackinac, thereby establishing the Saginaw Distributorship. In the summer of 1915, this expanding company moved to 206 North Washington Avenue. Garber Buick would later move to 110 W. Genesee until 1963 when fire destroyed the property. A move was then made across the street to 315 W. Genesee where the dealership has done business since.
The Buick Distributorship system is worth describing, because it was an innovative way to market "The car that sells by the train load," according to a newspaper of the day.
The Distributorship held full and complete responsibility for any contact made with the dealers they personally recruited and appointed within their respective territorial areas. Expansion and development of additional dealer locations, replacement of existing dealers and product promotions were all in their charge. Wholesale men from the Buick factory were authorized to contact the distributor and his managers only, and they in turn carried the word to the dealers under them.
The plan worked nicely from the start. With this system, Durant was able to build a dealership organization quickly and at a minimum of expense to Buick. This organization made Buick one of the most exposed automobiles of the time.
Durant appointed thirteen original distributors. These were loyal and competent men, Guy Garber among them. Durant had chosen well and, as history would record, these men would serve him well. In the years which followed, stories abounded in Flint of distributors rushing into town with suitcases full of money to bail Durant and Buick out of a capital shortage or to help meet a weekly payroll. In other instances, distributors would order large quantities of cars for their dealers, paying for them in advance so Buick would have the capital upon which to operate. In a very real sense the success of Buick was directly tied to the success of its distributors.
Guy Garber's long and productive affiliation with GM lasted nearly 60 years, through the great depression and two world wars. During that time Garber married Hazel Denyes and began a family which would eventually number four sons and two daughters; Jack, Maxine, Richard, Guy Jr. (Ike), Jane and Robert.
The business expanded through his sons. In the early thirties, Garber Pontiac and Garber Cadillac Companies of Saginaw were organized; Garber Buick of Bay City followed in subsequent years. Later, both holdings would be sold outside the family.
As the oldest family-owned Buick dealership in the United States, the Garbers have always conducted a unique relationship with GM's Buick Motor Division. In its early years Garber Buick Company became a GM model for salesmanship, efficiency and service to the customer.
Years ago it was written that Guy S. Garber has but one hobby and that is service. "He lives service, breathes service and practices service. His predominant business policy is to render such uniformly satisfying service that there shall not be a single dissatisfied Buick owner in the 30 counties comprising his territory." Said Guy S. Garber, "Service does not mean something for nothing, but it does mean prompt, efficient and courteous attention at a fair price." This founding business philosophy thrives today in the mission statement for Garber Buick.
Garber even coined a motto that has earned its place in the advertising lore of the Buick Motor Division. "When Better Cars Are Built, Buick Will Build Them. When Better Service is Given, Garber Buick Will Give It."
Guy Garber's commitment to the auto industry was evident in his professional activity. He was the first president of the Michigan Automobile Dealers Association. He likewise was an organizer of the Michigan Automobile Exchange, later to become the Automobile Club of Michigan. At the same time he served as president of the Saginaw Automobile Dealers Association.
Guy Garber also found time to make service to the community a major priority in his life. He was President of the Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce; founder of the Saginaw Crippled Children's Association; a member of the Saginaw County War Board in both World War I and World War II; and he helped to organize the Saginaw Community Chest. Garber's annual Christmas party for the crippled children at his Buick dealership became a downtown Saginaw tradition. His zeal for this particular charity was marked by the over 30 years he served as president of the Saginaw Society for Crippled Children. He even gave the society his summer home in Linwood, on Saginaw Bay.
Guy Garber was an avid baseball fan. His appreciation for the game went back to the days of the Saginaw Aces professional baseball team, which flourished a few years after World War I. In the long-gone ballpark near the west end of the Johnson St. Bridge, Garber paid for a special grandstand along the left field foul line, which was called "Kids Roost."
On a sunny afternoon Garber would be seen in the main grandstand, all smiles as he watched the appreciative youngsters whooping it up in the special stand for the home team.
Bearing his name as well in Saginaw are the Garber Tennis Courts. Garber donated the construction of the courts as a gift to the community of Saginaw. Today, they are still a popular site for tennis players young and old.
End of the Distributorship Era
As time progressed it became good business for General Motors to acquire the distributorship and thus gain the advantage of being able to work directly with the dealers in their various territories. Gradually, they were all brought into the GM fold. Garber, whose contract covered 45 counties, was the last dealer distributor. At Garber's personal request as well as his dealers, GM Executive Bill Hufstader agreed to allow the distributorship to continue because it had served General Motors well. It would continue to do so until the death of Guy Garber. When automotive pioneer Guy S. Garber died on December 5, 1965 at the age of 81, Michigan's first Buick distributorship became the nation's last Buick distributorship. An important piece of automotive history had passed away.
The role Guy Garber played as a member of the Buick Thirteen in the history of the company was immeasurably significant.
The contributions of these legendary figures can often be traced to the presence of imagination and the willingness to take big risks. Guy S. Garber knew that the days of the horse and buggy were numbered. He also knew this fellow from Flint, Michigan, Will Durant, was on to something with his car company which he had established years earlier.
The Torch is Passed
Richard Garber, Sr., son of Guy Garber, who had been actively managing Garber Buick Company, became president and owner until his death in 1972. Like his father, Richard was a civic leader in every sense of the word. He was Jaycees' "Outstanding Young Man" in 1951 and received the Arnold Boutell Award in 1958 for distinguished community service. He had also been a United Fund leader, served on the Board of Directors of Saginaw General Hospital and been President of the Saginaw YMCA Board of Directors. He had been elected by the Automobile Dealers of Saginaw to be the President of their Association.
Richard Garber was succeeded by Norman F. Geyer as president. Norm Geyer was married to Maxine Garber and was a son-in-law to Guy Garber. He was a dedicated, honest, and respected individual with high values. With over 25 years of experience with the organization, the majority as service director, Norm was knowledgeable in all aspects of the dealership operation. As president, he successfully guided the Buick store for eight years, during the trying times of the 1970's, until he passed the torch to Richard J. Garber Jr., in 1980.
Richard J. Garber, Jr., was the third generation to take the helm of the company in its 73rd of operation. When he became president, he was the youngest Buick dealer for a dealership of its size in the nation.
Dick Garber often refers to himself as the steward of his grandfather's business. "Even today when people refer to the company as my own, I tell them it is still Guy S. Garber's business. I attempt to treat the company with all the respect it deserves. This is a big responsibility and one which we all share."
In the tradition of the family contributions to the civic well being of the community, Dick Garber Jr. is active on a variety of fronts. He has been on the board of directors for various charitable and community associations such as the Saginaw Crippled Children's Association, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and United Way. His automotive activities have included serving as president of the Saginaw Dealer Association, and as the Saginaw County Director of the MADA (Michigan Auto Dealer Association). He's also served on several advisory boards and task force groups for both Buick Motor Division and General Motors.
"The values held by my grandfather are as important today as they were over 100 years ago. All of us are a product of the environment in which we were raised. In my case, growing up around the dealership, I heard stories about my grandfather and his commitment to providing high quality service to Garber customers."
As evidence, Garber Buick through its 90 year history, has received many customer service awards and honors from Buick Motor Division, including two of the most prestigious awards: Buick's Select Sixty and Buick's Best in Class. Both awards are based on customer satisfaction scores, volume sales and many other dealership criteria, which measure excellence in performance and dealership operations.
But to the management and staff of Garber Buick, the largest compliment or honor they can ever receive, is when a customer returns to do business with them again. And Garber customers have come back year after year, and generation after generation.
The Organization Grows
With Garber Buick enjoying outstanding sales and service performance, it became Dick Garber's objective to acquire additional dealerships and grow the organization. The first acquisition was in 1986. Today, under the umbrella of the Garber Management Group, the organization operates in three states (Michigan, Illinois and Florida) and consists of nine new vehicle dealerships representing 18 franchises and 15 independent used vehicle sales locations operating under the name of RightWay Automotive Credit. Also under the umbrella of the Garber Management Group is the Saginaw Spirit Hockey Club, a member of the Ontario Hockey League. The organization was formed in 2002 and plays in the Dow Event Center in Saginaw. Together the organization employs nearly 800 people.
"Our future is directly tied to Customer Satisfaction and Employee Satisfaction," says Dick Garber. "The continued success of Garber Buick and the future growth of the organization is dependent on our ability to employ caring people who share the values of the company's forefathers, and who carry on the tradition of service. When employees are empowered to satisfy our customers, they will return to do business with us again. Only then will we have succeeded."
Like his grandfather, Richard J. Garber, Jr. sees the vision of a golden era in the automotive industry, full of opportunities and challenges as well as threats to the conventional way of thinking. It will be a time that tests the fortitude and imagination of the Garber Management Group.
The organization today is a long way from the 1907 version, but important traditions live on: dedication to service, a loyal staff and a forward-looking vision. One that echoes in the spirit of a young farm implement salesman who took thousands of mid-Michigan area residents out of the buggy and put them behind the wheel.
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