Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.
What do you do and how long have you been doing it? (John Thomas speaking) We're a used car sales business. My brother and I have been involved in auto sales for 40 years. I've been an auto dealer since 1991, but as Ashland Motor Co. at this current location it will be 10 years in March.
Business: Ashland Motor Co.
Owners: John and Bob Thomas
Address: 1705 Highway 99 N., Ashland
How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley? I went to school at Southern Oregon University, starting in 1969. Then I left the area and moved back in 1985. Bob has lived here for the past 25 years. Bob and I both graduated from South Salem High School.
What inspired you to go into this line of work? Our grandfather was a car dealer in Madras and our dad owned dealerships in Madras, Southern Oregon and the Willamette Valley. My brother and I got into the car business when our dad started a Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge dealership in Lebanon when we got out of college in 1973.
What decision or action would you change if you could do it again? We probably wish we would've done it sooner. We're happy to be self-employed, and we enjoy being self-employed at this point. But we could have set out on our own sooner.
What's the toughest business decision you've made? For me, it was leaving the security of the family business and striking out on my own in 1985. Part of the motivation was to be on my own and be in a town I grew to love when I was in college. I think my brother had the same motivation, too.
Who are your competitors? We are more designed to be small and have direct interaction as owners with our customers because we don't have salesmen. We're an alternative to the very large stores that have a chain of command. With our clientele, we lean toward specialty and imports. ... Medford has many independent used car dealers; we're the only independent lot in Ashland. It was not easy to find a location that worked because new and used car sales businesses are a nonpermitted use in the city of Ashland. Our location is a couple blocks outside the city limits. We had a rough time finding a location, and honestly, it's the best we could've dreamed up.
What are your goals? We usually have an inventory of 35 to 45 cars, but in recent times it has been very difficult to get cars. There are multiple reasons for that happening. Depending on the month, we sell 20 to 25 cars. We're happy to sell as many vehicles as we can personally to take care of the buyers. The slowdown in the economy affected us, but we're small enough to adjust to it. It certainly has gotten better in the past year or so. Part of what we like about our size is that we're able to adapt to what is going on. Eventually, we would like to sell the business and lease the property. We bought this property as undeveloped dirt and designed the lot from scratch.
What training or education did you need? I majored in sociology, so there is no correlation to what we do. For being in the car business — and being self-employed — the best education is being in the car business. We learned the business during our years working at various places, including our father's.
What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs? Do a good business plan, really identify what all your goals, challenges and obstacles will be. I would probably start small, so you can have a hands-on approach and not delegate as much so you know what's going on. It allows you to be more flexible and make changes. It's probably easier to grow than to shrink. We are sensitive to how stressful it is to look at a car; what we really do is treat people the way we would want to be treated. A vocation doesn't dictate your character, your character dictates how you run your business.
To suggest ideas for this column, about businesses that are at least five years old, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.