“Our goal is [to] bring high-line import luxury experience to domestic stores,” says Joseph Gilmour, new co-owner of Naylor Chrysler Jeep. He and business partner Benn Gilmore (different spelling, no relation) didn’t waste any time doing it. As soon as they took over the dealership in mid-July, they sank several hundred thousand dollars into remodeling. “My buddy made a joke when I was telling him about the granite countertops, the Starbucks machine,” Gilmour says. “He said, ‘Really? You mean to tell me people who buy Chryslers want to be treated well and have a nice place?’
“Most domestic dealers don’t get that. They figure if they own a halfway decent place and give [customers] at least a flat-screen TV to look at, they’ll be fine. That’s not true. They want that extra red-carpet treatment, so they know we appreciate their business.” Gilmour knew how to provide that, because he used to manage luxury import dealerships.
His vision dovetails nicely with his partner’s. Benn Gilmore was an ear, nose, and throat surgeon for more than two decades before he retired last December. “My plan was to do full-time Christian medical missions,” he says. But he discovered that an enormous amount of infrastructure would have been required to support the monthly missions he’d hoped for–“too much to ask of the places I targeted.”
He found a new direction when he went to buy a car from Gilmour last winter. They had known each other casually for five years, and Gilmore asked his friend what his long-range goal was. “He said, ‘To have one hundred dealerships and change lives,'” Gilmore recalls. “I thought, ‘Christian missionary work is changing lives. Maybe we can collaborate here.'”
They wanted a dealership with a good reputation for customer service, low employee turnover, and a great work environment. They found it in Naylor—and Phil Naylor, whose dad opened the business in 1950 and who took over in 1985, was looking to sell for health reasons. The sale was completed in July.
Gilmour says the welfare of the dealership’s fifty-four employees is the owners’ first concern. “Take care of the folks that work here,” he says, “and they’ll take care of the customers.”
He’s been working in dealerships long enough to know that sounds improbable. “Obviously,” Gilmour adds, “we’re capitalists. If God blesses us, if it’s his will, we’ll make money. But at the end of the day, if it ended tomorrow, we’ve already changed fifty-four lives for the better.”
Naylor Chrysler Jeep, 2060 West Stadium Boulevard, 662–3175. Showroom open Mon. & Thurs. 9 a.m.–8 p.m.; Tues., Wed., & Fri. 9 a.m.–6 p.m.; and Sat. 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Closed Sun. naylormotors.com.
[This article has been updated since its publication in the November 2008 Ann Arbor Observer. Joseph Gilmour’s first name has been corrected, and Benn Gilmore’s discussion of medical missions has been clarified.]