As things ramp up at Upper Canada Chevrolet, the extensive service area will provide more than enough room for multiple automotive technicians to keep your vehicle in peak condition. Tinkess Photo
MORRISBURG – There has been a change in ownership recently at the Chevrolet dealership in Morrisburg, and when you walk inside you immediately get a sense of a new, electric feeling that comes with it.
Upper Canada Chevrolet (UCC) is the latest acquisition for Ayman “Gaby” Gabriel, who has been in the automotive industry for nearly four decades. After starting out in the used car segment, Gabriel started buying new vehicle dealerships about 21 years ago. Currently he, along with his wife Renee Therrien have three dealerships in Cornwall: Cornwall Nissan, their first in 2002, Uptown Kia added in 2017 and finally a Mitsubishi franchise in 2019. The Morrisburg Chevrolet franchise was added in October 2022.
Stephen Eastman, the general manager at UCC has been involved in the automotive industry for 38 years, most of it as a friend and business associate of Gabriel’s. He says that to be successful in the industry today, you must be able to offer multiple products. “Twenty years ago, you could have a stand-alone store,” says Eastman, “but in today’s world to be profitable you need multiple stores.”
According to Eastman, one benefit of this business structure is that you can develop and promote people. In a single dealership there is only so far you can go, but with multiple dealerships comes increased opportunities, which is exactly what has happened with Upper Canada Chevrolet.
“My sales manager, my business manager both come from the Kia store,” says Eastman. “We train them in-house, get them in green and then promote in-house.”
Employees quickly learn how much emphasis Gabriel places on a personal approach to customer service in all his dealerships. Today’s new car buyer is very different than those of a previous generation and today, it isn’t just a business transaction, it’s a total experience they are expecting.
“When they walk in, they’ve already been on the internet and they have a good idea what they want,” says Eastman. “It’s very important that you greet them well, and “wow” them, to make them want to do business with you.
“The internet is so impersonal; you can’t really show your personality and what your service is about, that’s why when they walk in, you’ve got to make the effort to do that. The building must look good; you must have product, the salesmen must know the product and you’ve got to have a good service department. That is the key: sales will sell the first car, but service will sell the second and the third. That part hasn’t changed in the business.”
It’s been challenging the past couple years for many dealers, with the restricted inventories due to supply chain issues, but Eastman says it’s getting better. “Will it ever go back to the days when you have 300 cars on the lot? No, those days are gone. They are predicting that we will have 30-60 days inventory as the norm from now on.”
The change is already evident at Upper Canada Chevrolet. It wasn’t unusual over the past couple years to see less than a handful of vehicles on the lot. There are more vehicles now, and some special vehicles will be making an appearance in the not-too-distant future.
“We are an EV (electric vehicle) dealer now, we’ve signed all the documentation and have received the special tools for them,” says Eastman. “We don’t anticipate receiving any vehicles till early spring because we are sort of late on board. Right now, an EV takes 18 months to get, but we are going to be an EV dealer. We’re going to have a charging station installed up front shortly as part of the mandate. It’s the future: hybrids, EVs, it’s going to be popular.”
As you walk through the dealership, the feeling you get is a sense of clean, fresh, and new. Most areas are freshly painted, but the building really hasn’t changed (other than the addition of several hundred thousands of dollars in new diagnostic equipment) but it feels like walking into a new retail space. The service department, for example, which had been used largely for storage is now set up for customers to drive in, drop off their vehicle for service and head down the hall to the waiting area. No need to get wet or cold walking in from the parking lot.
There’s room to grow as well; the facility is quite large, with offices for sales’ staff and the service area easily able to provide workspace for additional automotive technicians. There are plans to hire additional staff, but probably not till later in the spring, as demand dictates.
The best part about it is that the community has noticed the changes, and they seem pleased.
“It’s unbelievable the way the town has embraced us,” says Eastman. “The way they have supported us and come back to the store. I’ve never seen that before. It’s a great community and they really want the store to succeed, and they’ve made it quite clear. They’ve come back to the service department, and the technicians are happy because they can get 40 hours instead of 25-30, and we’ve hired a couple new staff for the parts and service. It’s been good so far.”
It’s great when you can combine the sense of the familiar with a feeling of new, fresh, and exciting. That is happening at Upper Canada Chevrolet, and, it seems, the best is yet to come.
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Terry Tinkess is a professional photographer, educator and journalist. He has been making a living with a camera and keyboard since 1999 and has been featured in such publications as The Ottawa Citizen, Cornwall Standard Freeholder, The Globe and Mail, The Miami Herald, Ottawa Construction News, The Ontario Construction Report, Ontario Home Builder Magazine, Reed Construction Data, Canadian Potato Business and most recently, The Record and Eastern Ontario AgriNews. Terry lives in Ingleside, Ontario with his wife Brenda, Mia the anxious Pittie and cats Wally and Chubbers.