Last week Marietta Rewucki turned the keys to long-standing Winnipeg dealership Eastern Chrysler Dodge Jeep over to the dealership’s new owners, AutoCanada.
"I am proud of what my family accomplished with the business." said Rewucki. "We weren’t planning on selling, but Pat Priestner impressed us with the way he approached us, and conducted himself. The biggest factor was their business philosophy towards employees and customers were a good fit with ours."
Priestner adds that the more than 65-year-old family-owned business is exactly the type of car store that AutoCanada is interested in acquiring. (AutoCanada acquired St. James Volkswagen/Audi, another long-standing family-owned Winnipeg dealership at the beginning of this year.)
"Marietta is a really nice person," he says. "We got along very well."
While Marietta Rewucki is looking forward to the next phase of her life, she leaves Eastern Chrysler with bittersweet feelings. Eastern Chrysler Dodge Jeep was founded in 1946 by her father, Joe, her grandfather, Andrew, and her uncle John Gusnoski in Beausejour. The family relocated the store to Winnipeg in 1957. Although Marietta will retire, the Rewucki family still will remain in the auto business as Marietta’s brother Andy and his family continue to own and operate Selkirk Chrysler.
"Dad was in the store every day of his adult life," Marietta Rewucki says. "We worked closely together for 40 years. I enjoyed the business, but it’s not the same without him."
Joe Rewucki passed away just over a year ago.
AutoCanada now operates 32 dealerships across Canada, making the company Canada’s largest multi-location dealer. Priestner, who grew up in Winnipeg, has been in the industry for 40 years. He notes that he started as a lot kid in Calgary. He founded AutoCanada 20 years ago and took the company public seven years ago.
"Chrysler has been a good brand for us," Priestner says. (Eleven of AutoCanada’s stores are Chrysler stores. The company’s flagship store is Crosstown Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Fiat in Edmonton.) "Eastern Chrysler has done very well in the Winnipeg market. We think there is potential for future growth here."
He adds that AutoCanada is always on the lookout for further acquisition opportunities in Winnipeg and elsewhere.
With Marietta Rewucki stepping down at Eastern Chrysler, Priestner has entered into a partnership with Jim Fyles who is the new managing partner at the dealership. While still relatively young — at 39, Fyles is a 23-year veteran of the industry who began his career as a 16-year-old lot boy at Birchwood Chevrolet.
Fyles notes that he began selling cars at 21. He credits Vickar Chevrolet President Larry Vickar for mentoring him and teaching him the sales trade. He also got his start in management with the Vickar organization. For the past couple of years, he has served as general manager at another local Chrysler store.
Fyles says that he appreciates the family atmosphere that the Rewucki Family engendered in their store and that he intends to preserve that family-friendly approach and the high level of service that Eastern Chrysler and AutoCanada are known for.
Ledingham new MMDA President
With Marietta Rewucki’s departure from Eastern Chrysler and the auto industry, Kent Ledingham steps up as the new president of the Manitoba Motor Dealers Association (MMDA). (Rewucki assumed the presidency at the most recent MMDA AGM in May.)
The dealer principal at Ledingham GM in Steinbach says that he is looking forward to the challenge.
He notes that both his father, Blaine, and brother, Jason, have previously served as the president of the Saskatchewan Motor Dealers Association.
It has been nine years since the Ledingham Family, which is based in Regina, expanded its operation by acquiring the two long-standing Steinbach General Motors dealer (and later combining them in one location).
"I have enjoyed living in Steinbach," Ledingham says. "It’s a great place to raise a family."
As far as his new role, he says that he plans to continue the work of his predecessors. "The MMDA is a great organization with great people," Ledingham says. "(Executive Director) Geoff (Sine) and (administrative assistant) Andrea (Darling) are doing a great job."
Bob Chipman Passes
Colleagues and competitors of Birchwood Auto Group founder Bob Chipman — who passed away Sept. 9, at the age of 87 — are remembering him as a mentor and man if his word.
"Bob was a great guy with a wonderful smile," says Glen Cross who got to know Chipman when they were operating rival leasing companies. (Cross was Budget, Chipman Hertz). "He was honest and easy to deal with. He never got excited. It was a pleasure to have known him."
Jim Gauthier notes that he and Bob Chipman go way back when Chipman was in partnership with Sherrold Haddad at the original Birchwood Chev location at Portage and Moray. "Bob was very competitive, but he was always fair," recalls Gauthier, who also served on different MMDA committees with Chipman.
"Bob was an honourable gentleman. You could take his word to the bank. All dealings I had with him were very good."
Used car dealer Earl Edmondson was still a teenager when he first met Bob Chipman. "My dad and I both worked for Mr. Chipman," he says. "I remember the first lesson I learned from him. I was 15 and walking around the lot with him. He kept bending over to pick up garbage and wrappers laying around on the lot.
"He was always good to me and my family. He will be missed. My thoughts are with his family."
"He was real gentleman," says Doug Murray from Brandon. "Everyone in the industry respected him. Birchwood Motors set the standard that all the other dealers aspired to."
Although a scion of the very successful Murray Auto Group, Doug notes that his father, Clare, in 1980, sent Doug to Winnipeg to learn the auto business from Bob Chipman. "Dad felt that Bob would be the best person in the business to mentor me," Doug Murray recalls.
Chipman was a leader in the community as well as in the auto industry. He gave of his time and money to numerous community organizations. He was inducted into the Citizens Hall of Fame in 2007.
Our sympathy to Steve, Susan, Mark and Jeoff and their families for their (and our) loss.