Since buying the former Bob Stone Subaru auto dealership in December of 2014, new owner Tonkin Auto Group has become known as the place to go in The Dalles to purchase one of the popular Subarus. And while the focus on sales of Subarus will remain just as strong going forward, the growing auto dealership is about to turn a spotlight in a fresh direction.
In May, the Tonkin dealership, at 2222 W. Sixth Street in The Dalles, started construction of a new 5,500 square foot, state of the art auto showroom to feature the Chevrolet, Buick, and GMC side of its business. The facility, which will include full service bays for the vehicles, is slated to open in December.
“It’s essentially a new dealership for The Dalles,” said Steve Ross, general sales manager for Tonkin. “We’re separating the two franchises. We believe we’ll be able to serve customers better if we have a dedicated General Motors staff and service technicians familiar with GM products and GM-trained sales people.”
And for the Tonkin Auto Group, the new showroom represents a bit of a return to family roots. That’s because in 1960, the late Ron Tonkin — founder of what would eventually become the Tonkin Family of Dealerships, which now includes 21 dealerships mostly clustered around the Portland metro area -- opened Ron Tonkin Chevrolet in Portland. Ron Tonkin was just 31, and at the time he was the youngest franchise owner in the United States.
“The Tonkins are very passionate about the Chevrolet brand. It all started there for them,” Ross said. “The reason Tonkin bought the dealership was because we saw value in re-establishing a Chevrolet franchise in this community.”
To get ready for the upcoming grand opening, the dealership’s vehicle inventory is in the process of taking a huge jump.
“We used to have seven or eight (Chevy-Buick-GMC) vehicles. Now we have 60,” said Ross, who moved to The Dalles in February to help guide the reintroduction of the vehicles at the Tonkin dealership. “We have a huge allocation from the manufacturer. Previously, we had just a section of the lot dedicated to Chevrolet, GMC and Buick.”
Ross, who has worked for the Tonkin company since the early 1980s, said he is highly enthusiastic about the opportunities presented with the new construction project.
“I think the community is hungry for Chevrolet and GM products, and we’re here to fill that need,” Ross explained. “We’ll have pickups and SUVs and a good selection of economy sedans.”
The Subaru side of the company will continue essentially unchanged and based right where it is now, but when the new showroom opens, the Subaru business will see a benefit too: Moving the GM products will free up additional space in the showroom for another Subaru model or two to spotlight.
Members of the Tonkin sales team think the new focus on Chevys, Buicks and GMCs will be good for sales, as it will draw in more people and expose them to models they might not have considered.
“Absolutely, there will be more business for both sides,” said Bill Cimock, who is certified to sell GM cars and trucks as well as Subarus.
Cimock added that the increased inventory that is a central part of the project will be a huge plus for the business.
“We have been lacking in inventory compared to Portland dealers,” he explained. “Now hopefully we’ll have about the same amount. If someone is looking for a black Crosstrek and another dealer has it, they’ll buy it from that guy.”
In addition to showcasing its love of automobiles, Ross said the Tonkin operation in The Dalles is very community-minded and environmentally-conscious.
He pointed out that the contractor working on the new showroom – Portland-based Perlo Construction -- was selected in large part because of its construction practices.
“We chose Perlo, and one of the reasons is their commitment to minimal landfill. That’s why you don‘t see dumpsters filled with construction debris on site,” Ross said. “And we worked with Energy Trust of Oregon to make sure the building was as green as we could get it. That is part of Tonkin’s commitment to the community.”
Ross said a concern for the community is another aspect of working with the Tonkin Auto Group he appreciates.
“The most important thing engrained in me since I came here is community involvement,” he said. “We’re excited about the community and excited about the opportunity in The Dalles, and we’re anxious to give back.”
Ross said the Tonkin dealership’s initiatives in the community include participating in a new booster club for local high school sports, honoring and assisting veterans, and even helping with homeless pets.
“We are actively supporting veterans and the Home at Last pet rescue facility,” Ross said. “It’s a commitment. We’ll always be active in the community.”
Ross added that the Tonkin dealership will be visible in the upcoming Veterans Day parade through downtown The Dalles.
“We’ll be in the Veterans Day parade with three cars – one red car, one white car, and one blue car,” he said. “We definitely want to support our veterans.”
The new showroom and service bays will also provide a bit of a boost for the local economy, as separating the auto groups into two buildings will result in more hiring.
“We’ll probably add at least 15 employees,” Ross said.