Built Ford Tough

A dealership gets 100 miles per gallon, fueled by small-time business tactics and a prime location


Story by Adam Patterson
Photos courtesy of Egglefield Ford

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The times have changed, but the Egglefiield family remains.

Through the Great Depression, two World Wars, and conflicts in Vietnam, Korea, and the Middle East, a car dealership in New York still has the same name on it: Egglefield Ford.  Since its formation, its doors have yet to close.

It started in 1910, when a man named Wilbur Egglefield bought a few cars and promptly sold them. Then he bought a few more, and those were also sold. “That’s basically how the business started out,” says Dennis “Denny” Egglefield, fourth-generation owner of Egglefield Ford in Elizabethtown.

Unlike his ancestor, for Denny, cars were in his blood.  He received his first car from his father, a Crosley, ironically not made by Ford. He learned to drive young—he was five years old—and eventually automotive curiosity got the best of him. “By the time I was seven I decided to tear (the car) apart,” Egglefield remembered. “I wore that (car) out in two years.”

His family is loyal to the Ford brand. Egglefield says that most Ford dealerships are family businesses, and that Ford retains more customer loyalty than any other car manufacturer. “I have a sister in Rhode Island that drives a Toyota. She parks down the street,” Egglefield says. “I have a daughter named Shelby (a type of Mustang). We have a lot of loyalty to the company.”

“I have a sister that drives a Toyota. She parks down the street."

Although his blood is the color of Ford blue, faith in his product is not enough to keep a company in business long. Egglefield attributes his success in the industry, as well as the area, to two basic things. Firstly, “If you take care of your people, they take care of you." Secondly, he cites something that is reminiscent of the childen's story Godlilocks and The Three Bears: The same way the titular character found the right place to sleep and porridge to eat, so did the Egglefield family find the right place to do business.

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Dennis Egglefield proudly holds the President's Award, which he won this year.

As far as taking care of his people, Egglefield Ford isactive in the community; from once sponsoring baseballteams to currently sponsoring a few stock cars that race at the track in Plattsburgh. “My father was always stronger than the rest of the family on that,” Egglefield says. “He always said, ‘You have to support the local people that are trying to do anything.' It’s the way he was. We’ve kind of all gone by the same lifestyle…try to make all the functions, you belong to the community service organization… We’ve got our hand in almost everything.”

Aside from reaching out to the community, the dealership has taken a more personal approach to handling local customers.

“I wouldn’t go no place else,” Bill Bayless of Bill’s Barbershop says about Egglefield Ford. About a mile up the road from the dealership is his barbershop. It is about twelve feet wide by twelve feet deep. Inside, the bottom half of the walls are trimmed with wood paneling, nine-dollar haircuts are listed on a dry erase board, and a microwave is stacked on a mini-fridge. There is one barber chair, and shaves for customers are given with a straight-edge razor.

Bayless has had a long history of shopping at the dealership, and his family is old friends with the Egglefields.“My grandfather, he bought a car in 1913, a Model T,” Bayless remembers. “I’ve been buying there forever… I probably bought twenty-something cars over the years.”

“I wouldn’t go no place else.”

I tell you what…There’s not many dealerships where I can go and buy a car over the telephone…If he’s (Dennis Egglefield) not sitting at his desk, I turn around (and leave). There’s not many places where you can speak to the owner.”

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The current face of Egglefield Ford.

Bayless has been a loyal customer for so long he even remembers that Egglefield's father was a fine salesman as well. “Denny’s father was a fantastic man…He could do anything with people. When he called you, he’s got your car sold already.” However, the dealership's loyalty extends beyond the barbershop and stretches all the way to the town’s government.

Town councilman Phillip Hutchins has known Denny all his life. He also says the business is “getting employment and all the things that go along with it... It's a very viable business in our community.” He’s also aware of the dealerships, and especially its current owner's petrol-filled veins. “I think he’s always been a car guy.”

There was even a time when the car dealership would barter with its customers. During the Depression, Egglefield recalls hearing his grandfather speak of trading food for cars. They are still in business.

There is one other factor Egglefield thinks greatly contributed to his family’s legacy as much as taking care of his customers and being active in the community: being in Elizabethtown. Egglefield, a town that “never see(s) the real good times, but we also never see the real bad times, either,” helps the business “run along pretty much on par.”

"There’s not many places where you can speak to the owner.”

Recently, other dealerships in the area have closed, digging Egglefield Ford into the town like a deer tick. “In a time when the automotive business has been on the rocks, so to speak, and the country, with the economy the way it is, we’re usually pretty well isolated in this area. The loss of these other businesses has helped us a lot,” he said. “I hate to say it because it’s at their expense.”

Even through 100 years of keeping a family business afloat, going from “the old days where you did what you had to do to survive,” to being a town staple in Elizabethtown and still expanding, Egglefield remains confident about his future. He says, “I don’t see a reason why we can’t make another hundred out of it.”

 

How do you think a business can still operate after 100 years?

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