Fox settles in at TC dealership

TRAVERSE CITY – With the economy in a downturn, it might seem an odd time for a company to expand into northern Michigan. But that is precisely what has happened with Fox Grand Traverse.

"Northern Michigan is growing by leaps and bounds, and we knew this was a great place to be," said John Cueter, the new general manager at the auto dealership. Known for many years as Grand Traverse Auto, the sale of the dealership was finalized last month from the Sleder family to the Grand Rapids-based company, which owns 17 other dealerships across the state, from Holland and Grand Rapids all the way to Negaunee and Marquette in the upper peninsula.

When reminded of the challenge of operating an automobile dealer during this economic downturn, Cueter maintained his positive outlook. "It really is a time of great opportunity," he said. "We're very optimistic. It takes a positive customer experience to survive, and that is what Fox exemplifies."

The sale was announced some months ago, but could not be finalized until approval was granted from all the manufacturers the dealership represents. Cueter said Fox Grand Traverse will continue to sell Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazda and BMW.

One change that is already underway is moving the Mazda line from the separate building next door into the main building. The company will be moving the Mercedes dealership from its longtime location in Acme into the former Mazda facility. Cueter said he expects that transition to take place over the next three or four months.

The company has a storied history. Milton Bryant, brother-in-law of the legendary Henry Ford, first began selling Fords from Grand Traverse Auto in downtown Traverse City in 1911.

Julius Sleder purchased the dealership in 1964, and his daughters Mary Jo and Jayne took over the business upon their father's death in 1999. That followed a move from its longtime location on West Front Street in downtown Traverse City to the current location at 3464 N U.S. 31 three years earlier.

Cueter said a majority of the company's personnel have been retained. One notable exception is Gary Moss, the former general manager, whom Cueter replaced. All told, there are now 75 people working at Fox Grand Traverse.

Cueter also took pains to emphasize the company's commitment to the community as well as to its customers. That includes becoming involved in various events and organizations throughout the area. "We want to be involved in the community, in both Traverse City and the surrounding communities," he said. "We want to give customers a buying and service experience that is the best they've ever received. We want to exceed their expectations."

Those sentiments are echoed by statements issued by owner Dan DeVos, who started the Fox chain in 2000. "We work hard to provide remarkable customer service in the communities we serve," DeVos said, "and this acquisition expands our ability to serve the Traverse City market with a great team of people who represent a great lineup of products and services."

Cueter himself is a veteran of 25 years in the business. Most recently he served as general manager of a dealership in Ypsilanti. Like Fox itself, he relished the opportunity to move north.

"It's a great opportunity to join a well-run, growing company. I knew this was a great place to be. I'm very grateful for the opportunity," he said. Cueter has moved his wife and children from Ann Arbor to Traverse City.

"We're a growing organization, and the Traverse City area is a great place to be," Cueter continued. "People need automobiles, and when people make that kind of investment, they want to be taken care of." BN