By Sue Moore
To sort out the DeNooyer family car dealership family, one needs to start with a genealogy chart. One branch of the family is settling in Vicksburg, having purchased the Simmons Ford dealership at the corner of Portage Road and VW Avenue.
The DeNooyer name has been associated with car dealerships in Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Elkhart, South Bend, Holland and now Vicksburg. The Simmons family dealership was Vicksburg-centered beginning in 1946 at various locations with Rovelle Simmons the proprietor and his son Gene moving into the business in the 70s. He started with American Motors, Kaiser-Fraser and soon a Ford dealership. Meantime, the DeNooyer family was building its Chevrolet family of car dealerships nearby in Kalamazoo.
All of this came to a head when Todd DeNooyer happened to meet Gene Simmons on a ski slope out West. Todd laid the seed in Gene’s mind that if he ever wanted to sell, the DeNooyer family would be interested in expanding to yet another location. Some years later, the two exchanged phone calls at almost the exact moment when Gene decided to sell and Todd heard that he might be interested in retirement. It didn’t take much horse trading after that and the deal was done.
The DeNooyer family celebrated the purchase with an Open House for the Vicksburg area in July where they found a welcoming community for their expansion. For now, Todd DeNooyer and son Jeff are heading up the Vicksburg operation as the dealers, while his son Ryan performs duties as general manager of the operation. All the staff has been retained except for the two general managers that Simmons had employed.
The biggest change customers will see in the coming months will be a renovation of the sales room and exterior signage. Their philosophy is similar to the Simmons family, “This dealership can only be successful if the service level is the best in the business,” DeNooyer said. “If we concentrate on superb service, everything else will fall into place.
There isn’t much margin in selling new cars these days as buyers can peruse the internet for the best deals and are well-educated when they come in to buy. They know the numbers and our job is to find the best deal we can for their needs.”
Simmons owned the collision facility two doors down from the dealership. That has been sold to a Kalamazoo company, Dunshee Body and Frame on W. KL Avenue. “We want to concentrate on maintenance and service in our shop.” DeNooyer said. “This is a process-driven business. A happy customer and happy employees create a community of support. It’s the golden rule applied right here as we work to install our culture. It comes through in our heritage. We believe in giving back as it was instilled upon us early on. We give to community endeavors that impact lives like Loaves and Fishes and United Way.”
Four generations of the DeNooyer family have their roots in the car business going back to Battle Creek in the early 1920s when Jeremiah (Jerry) DeNooyer opened a car repair shop, having come from a celery fields farm family in Kalamazoo. To complicate the understanding of the family tree, this man and his wife Lena became the parents of twin boys in 1926. They were named Jerry Lee and Gerald Jacob. The older twin went by Lee all his life and the younger one went by Jerry and is the man who moved to Kalamazoo and took over a Chevrolet dealership on Portage Road. He is the father of four boys named Bill, Craig, Jeff and Todd. Craig is the only one not in the car business; he preferred real estate development. It is the Todd DeNooyer branch of the family with two boys of his own that is taking over the dealership in Vicksburg.
“The challenge going forward in the car business is keeping brand loyalty at the forefront,” Todd said. He doesn’t believe that driverless cars will take away much of his business, especially in rural America. “It’s too hard to build a network of driverless cars outside of the big cities. The logistics of immediacy makes sense in the city but I don’t see it here. The U.S. is just too large a country. The disruptor in the industry is actually Tesla, not so much because of its electric cars but how they sell their cars without a franchise system of dealers in place. Manufacturers are watching and would actually like to be more like company owned dealerships. That’s why you see so many lookalike dealer facades now that consolidation of the industry is taking place,” DeNooyer said.