Huizengas Focus The Customer

June 11, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — As kids, Mary Gezon Huizenga and her sister had a coloring table at their father’s Gezon Motors car dealership. When they tired of coloring, they’d ride the car hoist for a little diversion. 

The coloring table is still there, but the dealership is now in the hands of Huizenga. Gezon Motors is the oldest family-owned automobile dealership in Grand Rapids. Huizenga’s grandfather, Amos Gezon, founded the company in 1913. Over the years, the dealership sold such models as Chandler, Cole, Stutz, Pierce-Arrow, Studebaker, Packard, Mercedes, Renault, Peugeot and International light trucks. The company began selling Volkswagens in 1965, then added Nissan in 1974 and Mitsubishi in 1989.

The day Huizenga graduated from CalvinCollege with a degree in economics, she headed out of town and went to work for a marina in Charlevoix. Five years later, she was offered a sales job at a car dealership in Petoskey, where she initially sold used cars before moving on to new car sales of GMC light-, medium- and heavy-duty trucks, and Audi, Mazda and Volkswagen vehicles.

At one point she was quoted on the front page of The Wall Street Journal about what she thought was going to happen to General Motors in the third quarter. Her father, David Gezon, saw the article and suggested that if she was going to continue selling cars, she might as well come back to Grand Rapids and work for the family dealership.

Huizenga joined Gezon Motors in 1986 and began buying into the company. She brought Mitsubishi aboard in 1989 because it appealed to a younger demographic.

Huizenga took a seven-year hiatus from car sales after marrying an attorney and moving to Washington, D.C., where she was exposed to, as well as active in, the lobbying efforts of the automotive industry. She gained a lot of valuable insight from the experience, she said.

She returned to Grand Rapids and took over the leadership of Gezon four years ago. 

Hands down, Huizenga said, working with customers has always been the best part of the job. Just the other day, a familiar-looking woman visited the dealership, but Huizenga couldn’t quite place her. Huizenga had sold the woman her first car 18 years earlier — a Nissan — and had taught the woman how to drive a stick shift. The woman had come back with her husband and three children to buy another Nissan.

“Those are the things that are great,” Huizenga said. “I love this business. Nobody gets their picture taken with their Maytag in their driveway — it’s their car. Their car is a bit of their personality, and it gets them where they want to go. We care about our customers and really value the referral and repeat business.”

Gezon Motors employs 45 people, and its sales associates are “absolutely the best,” according to Huizenga. Everyday every one of them works to make sure Gezon Motors is the best place to buy and service a car, she said. She credits General Manager Jack Bos for his “tremendous” leadership.

“Jack lives the philosophy of taking great care of the customer, whatever it takes, and he inspires that in the rest of the troops,” she remarked. “In the last few months since he’s been on board, we’ve hit some of the highest sales records that we’ve had in years.”

As far as Huizenga knows, she’s the only woman in town who owns and operates a dealership. Interestingly, women represent only 5 to 6 percent of sales associates among U.S. dealerships, yet 52 percent of the time, women are the leading force in a family’s automotive purchase decision, she noted.

Gezon Motors is currently in expansion mode. Some 8,000 square feet of space is being added on to a building in the back of the dealership, where vehicles are prepped and detailed, and it will become Gezon Motors’ new body shop. When the body shop is moved there, its old space will be converted to Nissan service and parts. Huizenga said the dealership is increasing its showroom space by 5,000 square feet, as well.

Above everything, Huizenga is proud of the 45 “great folks” she has been able to recruit and retain. She describes the longevity of her staff as “incredible.” There will be new hires as a result of the company’s expansion project.

“I think we’ve been fortunate to attract good people just by doing the basics right; you treat people the way you want to be treated,” Huizenga commented. “If you do that with your associates as well as your customers, it works.”

She anticipates that a decade from now Gezon Motors’ level of sales will be about double what it is today, and that the company will have at least one more new line of cars to sell. She’ll also most likely expand the dealership’s Internet department.

“Whatever it takes to serve the customer, we’re going to be there and be there ahead of the pack,” she added. 

The dealership is dog friendly, complete with chew bones and water dishes. And just like years ago, it remains kid friendly, with the coloring table stocked with supplies.    

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