by BETH ALTENA
After serving the community for nearly two-and-a-half decades, John Decker Chevrolet is being sold and will now operate as Ed Koehn Chevrolet. The family-owned dealership, located at 4650 14 Mile Road in Rockford, employs about 20 people, including John Decker’s two sons, JD Jr. and Jason. According to John, the new owners have agreed to secure all employees’ jobs with the exception of himself.
“I’ve been made a generous offer to go away,” he said.
At 58 years of age, Decker said he has been in the car business since 1974 and opened John Decker Chevrolet in September 1987. Pressures of Michigan’s flagging economy were part of the reason Decker decided to sell. “I’m too young to retire, but I’m not too young to get away from the pressure of doing business in Michigan,” he stated. “I’ve struggled with mortgages and borrowing money just like everyone else.” He said the last couple of years were not what he had hoped.
Decker said he sees the future of dealerships as operations like Koehn’s, selling multiple brands with more than one dealership. He said the advantages, from ordering stationary to advertising, give multiple-dealership operations a financial advantage.
Decker said he has been in negotiations on and off since last June and at one point had three letters of intent to purchase on his desk at one time. He wanted to dispel rumors of the dealership closing. “I’ve seen others go away like Northland Pontiac and I didn’t want to see that happen,” he said. “Rockford needs a dealership.”
“This is a great deal,” Decker said of the sale. He is pleased that his long-term employees, including his boys, will continue to have jobs and said new owners Aaron and Ed Koehn have plans to double the number of jobs the dealership is able to offer. “They anticipate doubling staff by the end of the year,” he said.
The dealership has been a strong community and Rockford Chamber of Commerce supporter over the years, annually sponsoring hole-in-one free car contests for the Chamber and other organizations, as well as oil change fundraisers for North Kent Community Services.
“I’ve enjoyed getting to know the family: John and his wife Connie and their sons,” said Brenda Davis, executive director of Rockford Chamber of Commerce. Davis said the family is very community-spirited.
Ed Koehn, owner of ? dealerships, is not yet a member of the Chamber. “If John has his way, they will be,” Davis noted.
Decker said he wasn’t sure what was in his own immediate future besides taking the time to have surgery on both his knees, which he said he has been putting off. “I can still do a lot of good in the car business,” he said. “Hopefully word of mouth will spread my fame around.”
Decker said he has started out as a Ford and Lincoln Mercury salesman and started selling GM in 1987. In 2003 he began selling Pontiacs with the closing of Northland Pontiac in downtown Rockford. He said part of negotiations included continuing the dealership in the John Decker spirit. “I think I have a commitment to the community and employees,” he said.
“Anyone who knows me knows I am the biggest talker in the world,” Decker stated.
Decker said he will miss interaction with the employees and customers. “This is where I have lived the last 20 years. That’s the hardest thing.”
He said he is very happy with the transition of the dealership into the hands of Ed and Aaron Koehn and believes the business has bright prospects. “I am very excited about the future.”
On Monday, Jan. 31, Decker said the actual closing of the sale would take place in the next couple of days.