Owner Ray Enos and some of his staff at Downtown Ford have witnessed two generations of employees’ families grow up under their noses.
“It’s been fun over the generations to watch the little children grow up and have kids of their own, and now there are grandchildren,” Enos says.
“I think that’s the thing that I’m most proud of,” he says. “We have a lot of very longtime employees.” Two tie for the record: Both started in 1968, one in the service department and one in the parts department. One man has commuted from Stockton for 20 years.
Enos himself has been at Downtown Ford for 35 years. “I started here as a salesman in January 1976,” he says. Only the third owner in the business’s history, Enos bought the dealership in 1999 from his former boss, Gene Pleau.
The business opened in October 1946 as Burton & White Ford in its original showroom, a brick building on 13th and I streets behind the Sterling Hotel. Pleau bought it in February 1965, changed the name to Downtown Ford and moved it to the current 8-acre site at 525 N. 16th St. in December 1975.
Today, the dealership employs 80 people. It not only sells vehicles, but also has a large wholesale parts and service department with 27 technicians.
“Besides the retail sales, we’ve also done a lot of fleet work for the state of California,” Enos says, adding that his company had the California Highway Patrol contract for 14 of the past 20 years. This part of the business has slowed the past few years as state agencies cut their vehicle budgets.
Yet, as vehicle sales slowed during the recession, the parts and service departments thrived.
“We’ve consistently done in excess of $60 million a year for many years,” Enos says. This also makes the dealership one of the largest sales-tax contributors to the city of Sacramento, he adds.
“We have to stay nimble because the business really changes with the economy,” he says.
“There’s been a real swing toward economy cars,” Enos says, noting that gas prices also hugely influence consumers’ car choices. “Five years ago we would sell two trucks for every car. Now it’s probably 60 percent cars and 40 percent trucks.” The popular Focus and Explorer both sell well, as does the newer budget-friendly Fiesta.
Enos prides himself in making old-fashioned personal service a priority.
“When you call here, you get a live body; you don’t get an automated system — and when you ask for anybody, they’ll put you right through. Nobody screens their calls, including me,” Enos says.
Part of what makes Downtown Ford stand out from other dealerships is its location. The website pokes fun at the River District site: “Crummy Location, Great Deals!” All kidding aside, Enos says the location in fact provides some advantages, one of them being that the low overhead helps keep the dealership’s prices competitive.
Being in a redevelopment area also allowed the dealership to remodel the building about 18 months ago with help from the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency.
Plus, it’s the only remaining car dealership in downtown Sacramento. “Thirty years ago, there were a number of them, but now it’s down to us,” Enos says.
“We sell a lot of vehicles and do a lot of service for people who don’t necessarily live downtown, but work downtown,” Enos says. “We can just run a shuttle and take people to work, so it’s convenient for them.
“We have our strengths and weaknesses, obviously,” he says. “It’s tougher to get people here on a weekend being downtown because nobody’s at work, but we get good business weekdays.” This is opposite to the experience of dealerships in suburbs.
Enos helped to form the original property and business improvement district in 1999 (then called Capital Station District), helped hire its first director and served as its first president.
Looking to the future, Enos is excited by the impending changes to the district and what they will bring to the city as well as the residents and businesses within the district.
As for him and his business, he says they’ll just continue to evolve with the times as they have since 1947. “We’ve been around a long time, and we will continue to be around for many more decades.” Thousands of Sacramentans soon can walk out their front doors and take a few steps to the American River Parkway, to light-rail, to shops and restaurants, and maybe even to their workplaces.
Gary Morton has a dream and a car. If his dream comes true, like those of Henry Ford and Karl Benz before him, Morton will turn his prototype into a car company.
But Morton is not looking to build a big assembly plant or an extensive dealer network. His production will be limited to just one model that will offer baby boomers the nostalgia of the muscle cars they drove in their youth alongside their modern commitment to a pollution-free environment.
Bill McAnally owns 70,000 square feet of shop space – split between his race shop and automotive care business – and 31 race cars built on site at Bill McAnally Racing NAPA AutoCare Center in Roseville.