Niagara Motors celebrated 75 years of sales and service in Niagara-on-the-Lake with a $4,700 donation to Red Roof Retreat.
Saturday’s car show and barbecue raised $2,260 in donations to the charitable organization that provides respite and recreational programs to children, youth and young adults with special needs. Dave Dick and his family topped the total up with another $2,440.
Dick, the dealer principal, said he usually prefers the company’s contributions to local causes to fly under the radar, but the special occasion called for different optics.
“They’re a fantastic organization,” he told The Local. “What they have to deal with, what they’ve done, the car business is easy by comparison when you look at some of the things they have challenges with. There’s so many good things in town. Just look at the volunteers.”
Niagara Motors opened its doors in 1946 at the same location where it stands today. William Lyon McKenzie King was Prime Minister back then, and Newfoundland and Labrador had yet to become a Canadian province.
Virgil, like most of Niagara-on-the-Lake, was largely rural, and the dealership got its start selling and servicing Case tractors. They branched out into Studebaker cars and trucks and also sold Meyer sprayers and farm implements.
“Some of the neighbours that lived in town back then told me this was the first place in town that had any asphalt,” Dick said. “The streets were still dirt. The kids would come around with their roller skates and just have a blast.”
In 1953, Niagara Motors shifted to General Motors products.
Dave’s father, also named Dave, began as a salesman for original owner Frank Willms. He sold fruit during the summer, and Willms convinced him to take a job selling cars during the winter.
In 1961, Willms moved to Niagara Falls and Dave Sr. bought Niagara Motors.
“I grew up here and on the fruit farms, and did everything at the dealership,” Dick reminisces. “Changing oil and tires, and working in accounting. Body shop, detailing and helping to sell cars.”
Dick took a moment to survey the array of classic cars on the lot Saturday, at least one of which, a 1963 Pontiac Acadian driven in by Ellen Enns, was originally sold by Niagara Motors. The majority of the collectors were showing off GM products, and he reflected on the dealership’s connection with the manufacturer.
“We’ve always had a great relationship with them,” Dick said. “We’ve been with General Motors for a long time. They’re a great company and they’ve been really good to us.”
“We’ve got such a good client base,” he added. “Our customers are great, and the staff we have here are beyond great. They come to work every day and do a great job. What more could you ask for?”
New car sales manager Troy Milinkovich has been with Niagara Motors for 20 years, having moved over from his previous position with John Bear Pontiac in St. Catharines.
“He’s the benchmark,” Milinkovich said of Dick. “He’s a very proactive dealer but he’s also very reasonable to all his staff. He treats his staff like gold. This by far is the most user-friendly dealership for customers and staff alike.”
The bulk of the business comes from word of mouth, Milinkovich told The Local. Repeat customers are Niagara Motors’ bread and butter.
“Unfortunately there are a lot of corporate stores now,” Milinkovich added. “They’re kind of sterile. When you walk into Niagara Motors, the first thing we hear from people we haven’t dealt with before is that it’s such a warm place, a nice place to do business.”
Through five or six expansions, the dealership bought up more properties to create the footprint they currently have on Niagara Stone Road. They’ve also weathered some changes in the industry through the years.
“The internet and technology have made things change,” Dick admitted. “People are more savvy. They know what they want and they can find it. You have to be on top of things, call people back right away, answer emails. It’s different, and more complicated for sure.”
Dick feels the future looks bright for the dealership as well.
“Virgil is growing,” said Dick. “Niagara-on-the-Lake is growing so much. When we came here Virgil had 1,000 people, and there were about 5,000 people in the whole town. In 10 years, we’ll have 30,000 people. People like to move down here.”
Dick’s own family continues to grow. He and his wife Terri have four kids and eleven grandchildren. With one of those kids working full time at Niagara Motors, and three of the grandchildren putting in time there when school allows, chances are the family business continues right where it has been since 1946.
“I’d like to see it in the family for at least another 75 years,” he said. “For that matter, why not forever?”