How Galpin Ford - and Bert Boeckmann - Became Legendary
Bert Boeckmann never intended to be the largest Ford retailer. But he found that having well-run sales and fixed operations led to economies of scale — and pushed growth.
“If I hear somebody use the word “legend,’ I tell them “I’m still breathing’” says Boeckmann. At 86, he’s still working six days a week, as he has since joining Galpin in 1953.
Located in the heart of the San Fernando Valley in Southern California, Galpin Ford is the world’s largest Ford dealership 27 years running. Galpin Motors is 32nd on Automotive News’ list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S. with 23,664 new vehicles retailed last year and more than $1 billion in revenue.
In addition to Ford, Galpin has Aston Martin, Honda, Jaguar, Kia, Lincoln, Lotus, Mazda, Subaru, Volkswagen and Volvo.
Galpin seemingly does it all.
They even offer America’s first full-service, in-dealership restaurant (the Horseless Carriage) as well as a Galpin Starbucks.
How did this dynasty begin?
Boeckmann stopped by Galpin Motors as a young man in 1953 as a favor to a friend, who had seen an ad soliciting salesmen and asked Boeckmann to keep him company:
“I said I had no interest. But I went with him. We both ended up working there. He lasted six weeks, and I’ve lasted 63 years.”
Boeckmann quickly worked his way into management and bought out owner Frank Galpin bit by bit, taking control by 1964. Early on, when the economy was in recession and the dealership was in financial trouble, Boeckmann worked so hard that he didn’t see much of his family.
“That first year I took over we were in a recession and out of trust. I worked all but two days. I’d come in at 8 in the morning and would leave at 8 at night.
Later I said: Was I cheating the kids? But I thought it had to be done to save the company.”
Bert Boeckmann is one of a select group of living legends who came of age just as the U.S. automotive landscape was changing dramatically.
Import brands were launching their U.S. invasion. Small single-point dealers began giving way to larger multi franchise groups, and eventually big public companies entered the fray.
Galpin Ford’s size, he says, was a result, rather than a goal, of his effort to run the company smoothly.
Their full in-house customizing shop, Galpin Auto Sports (GAS), was featured for three seasons on the television show “Pimp My Ride,” and today showcases a museum-quality collection of customized cars.
Although Boeckmann became the owner in 1964, he kept the Galpin name, another modest gesture.
“For two sound reasons I didn’t change the name,” he says. “I worked hard for the Galpin name so I was proud of it.” The second reason has to do with spelling and pronunciation: “If I said I was “Boeckmann,’ how would you have looked up my name?”
Boeckmann credits Frank Galpin with coining another concept: Galpinization, customizing a stock vehicle.
Boeckmann says Frank Galpin gave him the idea more than a half century ago when customizing a 1953 Ford to look like a Lincoln. Boeckmann invented the name and made a thriving business out of it.
Perhaps most meaningful of all, the Boeckmann family has received — and continues to receive — awards for their community service. They are considered a leader in this area.
Galpin’s Core Values are the pillars that support their mission. They form the rock-solid foundation that guides our individual and collective actions. These core values are intertwined so that each supports the other.
Along the way, Boeckmann has built a far-reaching business empire that has included gold and diamond mining in Sierra Leone, motor home sales, real estate and resort development, ranching in California and Oregon and even TV documentaries.
But it all comes back to Galpin in the end.
From his glass office above the Ford showroom,
“I can see across the street to the other dealership” that sells luxury brands. I can see the activity on the showroom floor. Also people can see me. If they want to see me, they know they can come up the stairs and I will talk to them.
“But I just love the business, love the people.”
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