Thursday, May 24, 2018

Mom and pop dealer takes over corporate dealership

Corporate America seems to be eating away our small communities in ways that are troubling to say the least. 

How often do we see corporate giants taking over small town businesses and not always doing some pretty things?

It’s happened in the media business with big corporates buying up the small town newspapers and most often gutting the staffs to barebones. I know of several small towns in our region that still resent the corporate media conglomerates that have taken over their newspapers.

And it has happened in just about every other kind of industry.

The reality is mom and pop shops are being flung into the rearview mirror in droves, left in the dust and sadly forever forgotten. 

Ever since giant Walmart came along years ago, the landscape of towns all across the country has drastically changed.  The mentality seems to be ingrained into the minds of many that bigger is always better. 

Not so fast. Maybe that’s not the case after all.

It’s rare to see a small town family take over a business that has had corporate ownership.

I was pleasantly surprised in last week’s announcement that Walsers Automotive dealership in Owatonna has been sold to a “mom and pop” dealer from Stewartville, a small town just outside of Rochester. Julie and Greg House have taken over the Owatonna auto dealer after nearly five years of corporate ownership by the Walser group. Greg is a third generation car dealer that has the smarts of dealing with small towns and the importance of community involvement. Julie has small town roots, as well, as she grew up in rural Kasson.

“I’ve worked with cars since knee high,” said Greg, whose grandfather started the Stewartville dealership in 1923. “Washing cars, cleaning cars, I’ve done all of it.”

As I sat down with them late last week, they were busy catching their breath after a busy week of transitioning the dealership into their name. Julie said every time she walked by the fax machine there was a new piece of paperwork that needed to be filled out with their information. 

Even though Greg has been around cars his entire life, the same isn’t exactly true for Julie, who will be operating the Owatonna dealership, of course with the help of her husband. She spent many years as a hair dresser and most recently worked at the DMV in Rochester handling title work and registration of vehicles.  

When I pressed them about any changes they were planning to make, Greg sighed and said, “We’ve only been here a week.” Added Julie: “I’m still trying to get my feet wet.” They assured me no changes were imminent, however.

The Houses are set on running the Owatonna location, in addition to keeping the Stewartville dealership going. They said at least one of them, mostly Julie, will be in Owatonna on a daily basis as opposed to corporate owners who seldom are around. Julie said she is proud that they will be able to offer the personal touch of having family at the store on a regular basis. 

What is impressive the most about the Houses is their devotion to small town values.  And that can be partially credited to Julie’s childhood in Dodge County. Greg has been actively involved on the civic front in Stewartville for much of his life. “I’m cut out for small town,” he says. “We’re heavily involved in the community.”

And folks can expect much of the same as the Houses become entrenched in Steele County.

It’s about time small town entrepreneurs rise up and go in hot pursuit of taking down the corporate giants.


See full story in this week’s print edition or subscribe online. Please subscribe here or current subscribers can login here.

Steele County Times & DCI

Steele County Times
411 E. Main St.
P.O. Box 247
Blooming Prairie, MN 55917

Dodge County Independent
121 West Main St.
Kasson, MN 55944

Dodge County Printing
121 West Main St.
Kasson, MN 55944


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