Family traditionsThree generations of Atwoods working together at redesigned dealership

Published 2:00 am Sunday, November 11, 2012

Atwood Chevrolet on North Frontage Road is more than a business.

A family tradition crossing three generations that began in 1958 with Emmett Atwood continues with his son, Alan, and heads into the future with grandson, Justin, 19.

“I’m happy that Chevrolet approved me as a dealer,” Emmett said.

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“I was a salesman for the prior Chevrolet dealer, Jim Early, at Early Chevrolet,” he said. “He died in 1957, and I bought the dealership from his widow.”

The dealership, which was originally on Clay Street, moved to its North Frontage Road location in 1983.

The building was recently remodeled to give it a more modern look.

“This building was built in 1971, and it was much bigger and more modern than the other location,” said Emmett, 85. “The remodeling was needed. The contractor did an excellent job and we’re very pleased.”

At one time, Chevrolet wasn’t the only line sold on the lot. Atwood also had Oldsmobile and Toyota dealerships, eventually selling the Toyota dealership after several years.

“We took on Oldsmobile in 1960, and sold them until they (General Motors) stopped making them” in 2004, he said. “They were some very nice cars.”

Alan Atwood, 49, joined the business in 1984, starting in the parts department.

“I wanted to go into farming,” Alan said. “I started working here and fell in love with it. I enjoy working with our employees and there’s something different every day. It’s never the same.”

He said his apprenticeship under his father was, “trying but very satisfying.”

It took him time to grasp what his father was teaching him, “but now I understand what he was trying to teach me and his philosophy of business and his philosophy of how to treat the customer.”

Emmett still goes to work every day, but the responsibility of keeping the dealership running has passed to Alan, to whom Emmett transferred the dealership in 1999.

Justin, 19, said his education under his father has so far been less stressful. Like his father, he began in the parts department and has advanced to sales. He is also the dealership’s GM-certified technology expert.

“It’s a lot of fun. Dad and I have some of the same ideas. We really don’t have very many disagreements,” he said. “It’s interesting, and I enjoy working with my dad.”

Alan said Justin is going to college to get a better understanding of business.

Besides being a tradition for the owners, Atwood Chevrolet has been a tradition for many people in Vicksburg, Warren County and the surrounding area.

“We have families whose parents and grandparents have done business with us — and still do,” Alan said.

The secret to keeping their customers, Emmett said, “is you treat the customer well and be honest with people. You give them their money’s worth with competitive prices and the best possible service.”

“That’s the way I was taught from day one,” Alan said. “To be honest and straight with the customer. We have long-term employees who know how to take care of our customers. That’s why my dad’s been here 54 years.”

In that 54 years, there have been plenty of changes in the economy, automotive design and fuel efficiency.

Automotive technology, with its reliance on electronics and computers, has been the biggest change in the industry, Emmett said.

“The technicians all have to be certified as well as well-trained in the fields they’re in,” he said. “They all have to be certified by GM, and they have to keep being updated on the changes in technology in their areas.”

Another change is people keeping their cars longer.

“People want to make their cars last,” Alan said. “We’re seeing cars come in here with 60,000, 70,000 miles on them and occasionally 200,000 to 300,000 miles. We have one customer with a Suburban that has a 140,000 to 150,000 miles. I believe it’s due to two things, people are taking better care of their cars and the cars are built better.”

Buyers’ needs also have changed. While there is still a market for “muscle cars” like the high performance line of Camaros, and for the Corvette, Alan said, economics is the biggest requirement when people shop for cars.

“Gas economy, absolutely,” Alan said.

“That’s the first thing the customer asks, ‘What’s the mileage,’” Justin added.

“We have several cars that get very good gas mileage,” Alan said. “We have the Cruze and the Sonic that do very well. Even the regular Camaro gets good gas mileage.”

And what is the hottest selling vehicle on the lot?

“Trucks,” Alan said.

“The Silverado is the best seller, and it’s going to be totally redesigned to 2014 — a whole new style,” he said. “GM is really keeping it under wraps. When they showed it at the dealer conference in Las Vegas, no cellphones were allowed in the exhibition hall, and they searched us for cameras before we could go in.”

The dealership has weathered several tight times, from a bad economy in the 1980s when interest rates were high, to the current economic problems affecting businesses. Through it all the Atwoods have remained optimistic about their business.

“It’s been very satisfying to be a dealer,” Emmett said. “There’s been a lot of difficulties and a lot of hard work, but very satisfying. I’ve enjoyed coming to work.”

“We’re taking care of business, and putting our business plan to work,” Alan said. “We’ve got very good employees and very good customers. We’re riding a low wave now, and when it arcs, we’ll ride it high.”