Since 1946, Galpin Motors has been serving car and truck shoppers in California’s San Fernando Valley. Owned and operated by Bert and Jane Boeckmann and their family, Galpin Motors delivers sales and service for ten brands, including Ford, Volkswagen, Lincoln, Subaru, Honda, Mazda, Volvo, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Lotus.
The world leader in volume Ford sales for 26 consecutive years, Galpin Motors seemingly does it all. They even offer America’s first full-service, in-dealership restaurant (the Horseless Carriage) as well as a Galpin Starbucks.
Their full in-house customizing shop, Galpin Auto Sports (GAS), was featured for three seasons on the television show “Pimp My Ride,” and today showcases a museum-quality collection of customized cars.
Perhaps most meaningful of all, the Boeckmann family has received – and continues to receive — awards for their community service.
Father and son, Bert and Beau, recently talked with Dealer magazine about Galpin’s success as a multi-franchise dealership, their on-going investment in their local community, and their unique achievements with customization.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to talk with me today. I understand in addition to everything else going on at Galpin, you have your annual car show this weekend. If you don’t mind, I’d like to start with a little background on how both of you ended up in the automotive business and working together at Galpin.
BERT: Beau, why don’t you answer this one and I’ll comment as needed.
BEAU: I don’t think my dad ever started out thinking he would go into the car business. He started out by selling Nashes in Glendale in 1952. Shortly thereafter he came to Galpin Ford as a salesperson and really excelled, obviously, for three main reasons: first of all, my dad is the most honest person I’ve ever known. And he’s also the most hardworking. He sincerely cares about people, and about every customer who comes in and really, a true caring, not just the words, as well as with all the employees he works with.
He has always had a “servant’s” mentality and to be in business as a servant to our customers. Throughout the organization, he leads by his example. He obviously did well in Sales and then became the manager of the dealership and eventually became the owner.
I could go on for hours talking about Dad but I don’t know how much background information you want to know. Dad went to USC and I followed in his footsteps and went to USC as well, with the intention of always getting into the car business. I’m one of the few people who went to college to become a car salesman. At least that’s what they told me in my marketing class. I tried to work in just about every area of the dealership to get a well-rounded experience. I really love the business and developed a love for cars as well. Growing up in our family it was kind of an easy thing to do because we were surrounded by a lot of fun cars. I’ve continued to work my way up in the organization.
I understand this is a huge year for the dealership. You’ll be celebrating your 70th anniversary in business this year. What does this mean for you and the dealership?
BEAU: Seventy years ago, Galpin Ford was a very small three-car showroom. It was a three-car showroom, right, Dad?
BERT: Yes. It was Brown and Galpin who came in together in the business. Shortly after they opened Frank Galpin bought out Brown and that’s where they came from. Frank’s background is he had worked at Willow Run, which was owned by Ford, during World War II. I guess it was fairly common he got a dealership working for Ford after the war.
BEAU: Interestingly, It’s kind of fun, going back that far, the first pictures I saw looking into the showroom was a big sign that said “Accessories.” And it was a beautiful ’46 convertible on the showroom floor, along with a 1914 Model-T.
It’s interesting that back from day one we had a classic car on the showroom floor along with perhaps the sportiest car of the day, and we were also doing accessories and some custom work. In fact, our first Galpin custom was built in 1952, just before Dad got there. That car was shown at the Third Annual Motorama at the Pan Pacific in Pasadena. It was also on the cover of Motor Trend, in, I believe, June of 1953. That was the first custom that Galpin did and Dad remembers seeing that car when he came to work as a salesman. As he recalled he didn’t know for sure what it was and thought it was a new Lincoln, not realizing it was a highly customized Ford. That’s a little bit of background on how our customization was born.
What was really neat about Dad in the early days is that he was open to a lot of new things and being a little different rather than being like every other dealership. Galpin Ford, through my dad, pioneered leasing to individuals back in the early 60s. We were also in racing and were into NASCAR. In fact, we were the West Coast NASCAR champion for four years in a row, from ’61 to ’65. For the last two years our service manager at that time, Ron Hornaday, was our driver. Ron was a dear friend. Actually we’re honoring Ron at a car show dealer keynote special dinner tomorrow night.
Along with this being our 70th anniversary at Galpin, it’s also our 50th anniversary in our current location. We moved here in 1966, again that was before my time. That’s really when we got out of racing. For one, it was very expensive. And two, my Dad and Ron were focusing on growing Galpin Ford because when they opened in this new location their business shot up fairly dramatically. Forty-fifty years ago they also did different things. http://www.digitaldealer.com/picture-worth-1000-words-many-video-worth/
Seventy years in the same business and fifty of those years in the same location are a testament to Galpin’s staying power. Why do you think you’ve been so successful?
BEAU: We’ve always looked at things that would benefit our customers, things that our customers would enjoy. They put in the very first restaurant inside of a dealership, and they had a large showroom compared to dealerships at that time, and amenities focused on having the best customer experience. The restaurant was something that I think set us apart. Today our chefs come from the Beverly Hills Hotel and they just do a fabulous job not only in the restaurant but also catering for many events for either charities or other events we have at Galpin. In another first, we called ourselves America’s First Automobile Department Store, which was how Dad brilliantly marketed the dealership back then. But Dad wasn’t about the number of franchises. He just wanted to be the best he could be and always focused on becoming the best Ford dealer.
In 1988 we took on Lincoln-Mercury. Over time we added franchises. In 1994 we added Jaguar, after Ford had purchased Jaguar. We purchased Mazda after Ford picked it up. Then in the early 2000’s we built our Premier dealership and also added Aston Martin at that time. Now our Premier dealership is all under one roof. Volvo we got in early 2000 as well, when we opened.
BERT: I was thinking as you were walking through these things as Ford attained franchises they came to us and asked if we would have them. So that’s how we got them. But I think what set us apart from other dealers is in what we created. For example, we saw kids who were fixing up vans for their transportation. So we started here—no other dealer had started it as far as I recall—doing van conversions for kids. And I’ll never forget the first one we did we had it outside and we were looking at it ourselves when a young fellow walked over at that time to see what we were looking at and it was the interior. We had done the paneling and all inside of it and he looked inside and said, “You know, I’d buy that if it had a carpet floor.” That was the last time we ever put vinyl on the floor, unless they asked for it.
Then we did interiors and we did windows, we did all kinds of things. We moved our van business, for example, from selling 25 vans a month to selling 125 vans. It was wonderful. A lot of other people came out and kind of copied that, but it was something we had a lot of fun, creating and improving. We used to sell two 4×4 trucks a year. We’d sell one at deer season and one at year-end, just to get rid of it. So one of my fellas came up to me and said, “Bert, why don’t we fix up 4x4s? Why don’t we make them like people really want? We’ll have rifle racks. We’ll have tires, wheels, bumpers, winches.” We went from selling two a year to 25 a month. It was unbelievable. The volumes we would develop for the products we were coming out with. And my son, Beau, is the one who is really the dreamer and loves to put these things together. So we changed the name from “customizing” to “Galpinizing.” Beau has taken that over and if you look at all the different things he’s done. The most recent, I’d say, is the newest. What’s it called? I want to say explosion. Help me.”
BERT: Beautiful car. It’s outstanding. So he’s developed it even further into creating cars themselves that people will enjoy.
BEAU: You’re right, Dad. I had skipped over that part. I was talking about what makes Galpin different and I skipped over perhaps the most important part: customization. We’d listen to what customers would like to put in their vehicles and rather than wait to have the manufacturer do it we would do it for them.
BERT: We did a lot of things like vinyl tops, different interiors, rumble seat, that brought people’s attention to us.
BEAU: So you come to Galpin back then and still today and see cars you wouldn’t see anywhere else. Again, it created something different than what you would see at a typical dealership. And that’s really what we try to emulate going forward.
We were also the first dealership to have a full-service Starbucks in there. So now we’re making frappuccinos and lattes, and we’ve got hot food in there. Again, we’re offering something a little different. We try to create a destination where people enjoy coming to the dealership rather than resent coming to the dealership.
You represent 11 franchises. Could you talk a little more about them, which ones and how they’re doing, for instance?
BEAU: Just to round things out, I already mentioned Mazda and we’re actually the #2 Mazda dealership in the United States. We added Honda about ten years ago and it’s now the #2 Honda dealership in the United States. We added Volkswagen about four or five years ago and we’re the third largest Volkswagen dealership in the US. With Lincoln, we’re #1 in the Western U.S. And with Jaguar, we’re in the top five. Volvo we’re in the top ten. And Aston Martin, I think we’re now third in the nation. We also have two dealerships in Santa Clarita that are Mazda and Subaru, which are actually under one roof—one dealership, two franchises, I should say. So that’s our franchises.
What specifically are some of the challenges of offering so many makes and models?
BEAU: Today it’s the manufacturers. We’ve always had very close relations with them. We work very hard to keep those relationships strong and that’s one thing when you have so many brands, it’s keeping up with all the manufacturer programs. Manufacturers, especially today, want to manage dealerships that aren’t dealing well and tend to deal with things at a lowest common denominator factor rather than looking at certain dealerships, such as ourselves, that may excel. Some programs that are designed to help under-performing dealers actually hurt over-performing dealers, so I would say that’s a challenge.
Any time you have a large organization, because we’re very hands-on, Dad and I are at work every single day, and Dad, bless him, takes work home on the weekend. We’re very hands-on because we believe we’re there to serve our customers and to serve our employees as well. When you have as many employees as we have, which is about 1400, just making sure you’re on a personal basis with that many people and you’re not sitting in some ivory tower is important. Quite frankly, maintaining relationships with all of our employees becomes challenging when it’s so many. But it’s a wonderful blessing to have and our greatest strength, of course, is our people.
I’d like to go back to your customization shop and ask you to drill down more on it. How’d you get started in it and what kinds of customizations do you do?
BEAU: We opened up Galpin Auto Sports (G.A.S.) about ten years ago and rather than just customizing the cars we sell we opened it up to customizing all makes and models. We do everything from restorations to performance, wheels and tires, audio-video, paint, just about anything you could imagine. We do custom buildings. We say, if you can dream it, we can build it. Our first customer at G.A.S., when we opened up, was the TV show “Pimp My Ride” so we did “Pimp My Ride” for three years and had a lot of fun and created a name for ourselves as well. We still enjoy customizing cars all these years later.
BERT: I think the interesting thing there on “Pimp My Ride” was that when they started the television program they were delivering the cars to the people but the people were unable to take the cars home because the customizations were not done correctly. So the company ended up going to someone who referred them over to Ford who then referred them to us. If you remember, son, they wanted you to turn out a car in something like two weeks. We were just building up GAS at that time to do more work. They were saying they had to have it now. Not only were we starting out with them then and did all their cars after that, but we also had to put all the other cars together so they could deliver them to the kids that had been shown delivered once before on the TV.
Galpin Motors has been recognized as the world leader in volume Ford sales for 26 consecutive years. How do you remain a sales leader and what does it mean?
BEAU: Dad never set out to be the #1 Ford dealer, first of all. But he was out to be the #1 profit dealer. He was really focused on you get there by first serving your customer and working hard and doing things as well as they could and really working together. But as a team, probably, if you were to look at Galpin Ford back then, fifty years or so, back then I’d say that was the best run dealership that ever existed and probably ever will exist because of the way Service worked with Sales and Sales worked with Service, and everything together, which was unlike a lot of dealerships. When Galpin continued to grow and Dad was focused on profits and customer service, volume comes along with that. Right? People want to come back and to grow profits you need to grow volume. At a meeting Dad witnessed one of his friends getting an award for being the #1 volume dealer and said wait a minute he hasn’t sold that many more cars than we do. It was 1990 when for the first time we were successful in being #1 and we’ve maintained our #1 position ever since. It’s a real point of pride for all of our employees and managers, who work very hard to maintain that position.
I’d like to shift gears for a moment and have you talk about Internet marketing. What kinds of things are you doing for social media and how are those programs working?
BEAU: Quite well. We didn’t even have a Facebook page three or four years ago. Time goes by so fast, I can’t remember now. We were at a 20 Group and said you know we have to get serious about social media. We hired a young lady who became our media social director. We went from one meeting of not having a Facebook page to the next meeting of having the most Facebook friends in the group.
We grew it by following the same attitude of the dealership’s. We didn’t hammer people with a marketing message or a sale but we used social media as it was intended, that is to have fun and to share some of the fun things going on and some of the cars we were doing, talking about the community involvement that we had. We purposely didn’t focus on a sales message. But when a notable sales event came around, such as a Labor Day Sale, we would advertise it on Facebook. As a result, we grew rather dramatically in a fairly short amount of time. Our customizing shop, G.A.S., really helped because that fueled the automotive passion. All of our brands have really excelled and now we have over a half-a-million Facebook followers. We actually buy ad space with Facebook and that’s worked for us. But our main use of social media is for community and to let people know what’s going on at Galpin. We try to entertain more than anything, and by trying not to sell we probably sell more.
BERT: There’s quite a bit more because it’s a central part of what we do. Advertising used to be mostly art and a little bit of science. Now with the Internet it’s a lot of science with some art mixed in. Because you have to become an expert on SEO marketing and all the different ways you can market online. Quite frankly, I have a difficult time keeping up with it. So it’s become a lot more complicated, marketing has, even in the last five years I would say.
If you could choose one tool from your digital marketing tool chest, which one would it be?
BEAU: Definitely our website. I said when the Internet was coming around, this was the best possible forum for us to communicate with our customers. A lot of dealerships take their website for granted and leave it up to the manufacturer to do their thing. All the websites look the same from all the manufacturers. Purposefully, the manufacturers are taking away the individual personalities of the dealerships because a lot of times they didn’t fit in with the manufacturer. In some ways I can understand why they would want to do that but it goes back to my lowest common denominator comment. We really focus on having a website that emulates the experience of walking the lot. That is by far our greatest tool and we get over 100,000 unique visitors a month.
What do you think of Millennials, both coming into your showroom and as employees? How are they different? How can we make them successful in automotive?
BEAU: Well, there are things that are different and things that I think are the same. In some cases, Millennials are just young. People forget that they go through a stage in their life and they’re not quite as responsible as during other times in their life. I’m a GenXer and they used to say a lot of similar things about us. Now I will say because of technology there really has been a difference in the way they communicate and the way they shop is different, but I don’t think that’s unique to Millennials. I think everybody is experiencing a different way of shopping. Technology is changing all of us in a way that is good and not so bad.
We look very hard to find some wonderful, hard-working, and dedicated millennials. Just like any group, it’s always hard to find good people. The most important thing in any organization is finding the right people. So I think there may be a different way to communicate with millennials. Probably, in some cases, there’s more of an expectation of time off. Because of my generation, I didn’t love working long hours in the car business. I don’t think anybody did. I think millennials just look for a better life-work balance, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. If people can be more effective at work if they can get the rest they needed, again, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Just like anything, it’s always a challenge finding the right people. I think the fears about millennials might be over-exaggerated. At the same time, I think they are a unique group. Does that make sense?
I would like to shift back now to the concept of community. Your dealership is well known for its long commitment to community service. For example, Bert was honored by Ford Motor Company as a “Hero of the Planet”—congratulations, sir. Could you explain why you made and continue to make this investment in your community.
BEAU: Do you want to answer this and I’ll fill in as needed?
BERT: The problem we have is I don’t know how we would tell people all the things we’re involved in and have it coming out right. I think we always have a strong presence in the community. We’ve always belonged, whether it was the Chambers or a non-profit. I remember Mother and I oftentimes would go to three events a night. She’d go to one, I’d go to another, and we’d end up together at a third. And we did it because we were involved in our community. We were a part of it and it was like a part of the way we were living. That just continued to grow, because when you do that you have more contacts, more people come to you for assistance.
Today, if you said to me, could you tell me the places you assist or work with, I’d say you’re better off giving me a list and letting me mark off the ones I don’t, because there are so many. Whether it’s children, whether it’s grown up, whether it’s homeless… I spent sixteen and a half years as a police commissioner. Anything in the line of law enforcement we’ve been involved in. That’s just been our lives, it’s been part of it. I remember that when I was a kid in front of our house they always had an area that was painted red on the curb. I didn’t know what that was. It turns out it was for people we used to refer to us bums then, people who did not have a home, and they would put them on a curb at somebody who gave out food, so the next one that came along would know where to get food. I always remember we had a red curb in front of our house, so maybe that’s where it came from. Just from our own upbringing and the way our parents were. But we love our community and we were at a community event today, as a matter of fact, for some period of time, yesterday, and last night. It’s something that’s benefited us in business, of course, but it was never the reason we did it.
BEAU: Dad always did these things because he felt it was the right thing to do, not because he thought it was anything he would get back. For me, probably the biggest award Dad ever got was the Horatio Alger Award, which was for individuals who didn’t start off with anything but were able to prove themselves with something very successful and then use that success to give back to those who were less fortunate. So I am really proud of my dad at that and at a multitude of things and he and my mother and the many awards they’ve received. Again, they’ve never gone after awards; in fact, they’ve probably turned down more awards, frankly, than they’ve received. Oftentimes whatever we’re doing has some charity or association we’re helping out, it seems almost constantly. At the car show we’re having on Sunday we’re having a VIP night on Saturday night and we’re raising money for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, so it’s just in the fabric of who we are and that’s from the example set by my parents.
Why did you open Galpin Auto Sports and what have been some of the greatest restoration or customizing successes with it?
BEAU: Growing up in the automotive business. It was normal for me to see custom cars every day. It was odd for me when cars were stock, they didn’t look finished. We had vendors all over the place and some vendors would go out and come back in and some we worked very well with. I said why don’t we open our own shop and Dad actually had the idea years ago to open kind of a Galpin toy store. He said why don’t we kind of bring customization in-house and open it up to all makes and models. Literally, before we opened our doors that’s when “Pimp My Ride” came knocking. I would say that was one of our best and most enjoyable accomplishments.
Quite frankly, just going off our business and the reputation we have today, we’re doing full-body-off restorations, building hot rods and even coach building now. Which is very romantic for me because I love cars from the 20s and 30s. Just the idea that you could go in and they would design a car around you and your chassis, I always thought that was amazing. Kind of gets into what we’re doing today with the Galpin Rocket, which was actually designed by Henrik Fisker, so he came to us with this idea and design to do a carbon fiber Mustang, with a 725-hp super charger. We developed a whole suspension system with it, custom brakes, custom wheels, the whole car is a coach-built super Mustang. It’s been tremendously rewarding and fun working with Henry Fisker and we’re extremely proud of it. We’re just going into production now with that car. There are so many things we could be proud of. We built a couple of award-winning hot rods. One called the Iron Orchid that competed all over the United States. There’s probably something else I’m not thinking about right now, but we’re very proud of the team over there.
I understand you will be showcasing the Pink Panther car during your annual car show this weekend. What can you tell me about it?
BEAU: It’s probably one of the best show cars of all time, so of course I love it. It actually had been overseas for fifteen years or more, I can’t remember the last time the Pink Panther had been shown. It was sold over in Europe and we happened to get our hands on it and started the restoration. A gentleman by the name of Joe Perez actually did the interior the first time, I think 47 years ago. The Pink Panther had a telephone and a camera and a television, back then in the 60s it was impossible. The car was all, of course, done in pink. The interior was incredible and Joe Perez did the same interior again, 47 years later, in the same garage, and did the most beautiful job.
He spent quite a bit of time doing that and we painted it back to its former glory and it looks as good if not better than when it debuted nearly fifty years earlier. It was actually on the opening of the cartoon. In the cartoon, they’re driving around in the mountains and they pull up in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater. The pink panther and Inspector Clouseau get out of the car and the guy driving takes his helmet off and it’s a little kid that’s been driving all the time. That’s what I remember as a kid seeing those cartoons.
It’s got to be one of the weirdest customs of all time. Designed and created by a guy named Ed Newton, his nickname was Newt, and he designed that and Big Daddy Roth’s Orbitron, along with a car for Galpin called Scythe. We’ve restored a number of Big Daddy Roth cars, as well. We developed this unique business of doing some of the more unusual cars that most custom shops wouldn’t even know what it was much less what the heck to do with it.
Clearly, your company has been a force and made a positive difference in your community. How has it made a difference in your lives?
BEAU: Not just a part of our lives, it’s been our lives. We’re a successful dealership and we’ve had people try to buy us before. Companies offered us more money than I’ve ever seen in my life and I look back and ask what would I do? I can’t think of not being with the people I enjoy working with every day. I couldn’t imagine life without Galpin. I don’t watch sports and I don’t have a lot of hobbies and all my interests involve cars. I’ve turned my hobbies into work and I don’t know if that’s a smart idea, but this is pretty much my life.
BERT: We have a lot of families that work with us, generations of people, from children and grandchildren to nieces and nephews. It turned out to be a family affair. Well, out of a team of 1400 you might not think it’s a whole lot but it’s a whole lot for one family. We are a family that’s so close because we are a family, at work and at home, and we’re not the only family at Galpin. I don’t even know how many families we have here with multiplies of generations of brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, fathers and mothers, it’s really a wonderful environment to work in, and we love our employees and we love our families.
When you consider your dealership’s long history of success, what is the one accomplishment that stands out above the rest?
BEAU: All right, Dad, I think this one’s for you.
BERT: It’s like in different parts of your life they have different meaning. If you asked in the automobile business what would it be I think it would be the TIME Quality Dealer 1985 national winner. In other words, I was picked as the number one dealer in the United States in 1985, and I think that meant a lot to me because that was the profession I had chosen to go into. So that certainly would be it if you’re talking about automobile. If you talk about other parts of my life it might be a different acknowledgment but from this standpoint that would be it.
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