Smooth ride: Jorns Inc. having good anniversary year, despite economy
BY LEE LAWRENZ • Kewaunee County News • November 19, 2008
Owning a car dealership is not a smooth ride in these tough economic times.
However, when you have a large showroom full of Corvettes like owner Pete Beane of Jorns Chevrolet of Kewaunee Inc., Kewaunee, life can still be pretty good.
While General Motors vehicle sales in the United States plunged 45 percent in October compared to a year ago, Beane noted they bucked the trend with a 5-10 increase in sales due in part to sales of Corvettes both in the United States and internationally.
Beane said Jorns has a current inventory in excess of 100 vehicles. About 20 are new and used Corvettes. Two Corvettes presently are in the main showroom, with the rest in the former Dale's True Value Hardware store located just to the north, a building Beane purchased five years ago. It gives Jorns an extra 10,000-square-foot heated showroom.
"We're a big niche dealer," Beane said. "When customized trucks came out, we sold more than the Green Bay dealers in the late '80s.
"We really got into Corvettes in the mid-'90s. We started with one at a time and now we're internationally known for them, due to the Internet. We've been very strong with them — selling a couple a week. We recently sold one to Australia. It's interesting to think we're from little Kewaunee and we're known throughout the world."
Jorns Chevrolet of Kewaunee Inc. is observing its 20th anniversary. Jorns opened for business on Nov. 1, 1988, at 1613 Center St. (on Wisconsin 29 within the city) on Kewaunee's west side.
At the time, Jorns had operated a family-owned dealership in Sturgeon Bay for about 30 years and ran it another five years before selling to Bergstrom. Beane and father-in-law Hub Jorns became co-owners of the Kewaunee operation, and Beane came from Sturgeon Bay to run it.
Beane, 51, said it was a good decision for him. "It's been a great 20 years and hopefully they'll be another 20. I like selling cars and love the people, everything about it. You've got to have fun."
Beane said Jorns has actually been celebrating its anniversary "all year with special deals." They are planning "a customer appreciation party in the spring in conjunction with a car show."
Jorns attracted a customer recently from Chicago, who saw a good deal on the internet. However, many local people also check their Web site, www.jorns.com before they come to the lot.
"We try hard to sell locally. We offer them a better deal so they don't have to go to Green Bay to buy a car. We want to keep them buying locally and to have the tax dollars stay locally," Beane said.
"Our trucks and cars are all doing pretty well but you have to have the right inventory. You have to have what the market is bearing," Beane said. "Trucks and sports utility vehicles are still popular here, even with the economy."
Beane and other area auto dealers were recently featured in a Green Bay Press-Gazette article regarding the economy. Beane said Jorns has noticed unique buyer trends.
Tina M. Gohr/Kewaunee County News
"The thing we've seen more in the last 30 days is more people are coming in that need a car rather than wanting a car," Beane said.
Beane said Jorns is practicing caution. They've cut inventory and expenses where they can, and while they haven't had to let anyone go, their staff is where it should be.
Beane said Jorns has also done well due to its high customer satisfaction rating. General Motors uses a 4.0 rating system to gauge dealerships and for the past year and a half, Jorns has received a perfect 4.0 score.
Asked what factors are included, Beane said, "It means that people are having an excellent buying experience, feeling they're getting the best deal. It means when someone has a problem with their car, we fix things right the first time."
Jorns employs 12 people and has an eight stall service department. Beane said people drive in from as far away as Chicago and the Twin Cities to have Jorns technician Craig Paque work on their Corvettes.
A veteran sales staff is another plus. Beane said no one at Jorns has been there less than seven years. One salesman, Jesse Yahnke, started out with the dealership detailing cars.
"We've been here 20 years because of the employees," Beane said. "We have the best people around."
On its Web site, Jorns touts itself as the largest Corvette dealer in northeastern Wisconsin. Beane said, "We're involved with a lot of Corvette clubs. We've helped set up rides. This year, we had 25 people from Eagle River go up to Door County. Once, we arranged for 24 (Corvette owners) to go to Lobster Fest in Maine."
Locally, the Denmark Lions are holding a Corvette raffle, selling a maximum of 700 tickets for $100 each, with the top prize being a Jorns' Corvette. The drawing will take place at 2 p.m., Jan. 4, at Beverly Gardens.
Among the vehicles in the former hardware store are a 1962 Corvette, an all original car; a Corvette that was the pace car at the 2008 Indianapolis 500, and specialty cars such as a '64 Impala, '62 Impala and '57 Chevy. There are also racks of Corvette clothing.
Beane seems very happy showing off the Corvettes.
"We're a tiny Chevy dealer that likes to have fun," he said.