FD Ford Toyota wins dual awards

Johnson family’s local dealership honored by Ford, Toyota

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Matt Johnson, left, and his father, Casey Johnson, display the prestigious President’s Awards that Fort Dodge Ford Lincoln Toyota won for 2017. The local dealership was the only one in Iowa to win these awards in 2017 from both Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. The dealership is owned by the Johnson family.

Fort Dodge Ford Lincoln Toyota, 2723 Fifth Ave. S., has the unique distinction of being honored for outstanding performance by two major automakers in the same year. Owned by the Johnson Family, the enterprise received a prestigious President’s Award from both Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. It’s was only dealership in the Hawkeye State to achieve this recognition from both auto companies in 2017.

“It’s a daunting task to win these with all the things we have to accomplish,” said Matt Johnson, one of the dealership’s co-owners and general manager of Fort Dodge Ford Lincoln Toyota. “Less than 10 percent of the dealers achieve this award. They are comprehensive awards so the winners aren’t just based on one aspect.”

Johnson said an array of factors are evaluated by Ford and Toyota in determining which of their dealers warrant each company’s top honor. Among the performance measures assessed are customer satisfaction, sales volume, market share and service after the initial sale.

Fort Dodge Ford won the President’s Award from Ford in both 2016 and 2017. In addition to being selected for this honor by Toyota in 2017, it has received it three times previously.

A family business

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Five of the seven Johnson family members are shown above. From the left are Matt Johnson, general manager of Fort Dodge Ford Lincoln Toyota, his wife Abigail Johnson, his mother Deb Johnson, daughter Isabella, 1, and father Casey Johnson. Not shown are Nick and Jordan Johnson. Nick Johnson is the general manager of the family’s dealerships in Ames and Nevada. The entire family shares in the ownership of the three businesses.

In 1996, Deb and Casey Johnson acquired a Ford dealership at 11 N. 25th St. That began a business saga that has evolved into a vibrant family business with locations not only in Fort Dodge but also in Ames and Nevada.

“A one-car showroom with eight service stalls and maybe a quarter of an acre lot,” Casey Johnson said, reflecting on that initial venue.

Before long a more spacious home was needed for the fast-growing business. A decision was made to create a huge, state-of-the-art home for the enterprise on the city’s rapidly evolving Corridor of Commerce – Fifth Avenue South.

In 2002, the Johnsons purchased a largely abandoned shopping center on 19 acres of land that fronted on that key thoroughfare. The property was transformed into an 80,000-square-foot automotive mecca four times the size of the facility on North 25th Street. Simultaneously with moving to the new 2723 Fifth Ave. S. site in 2003, the Johnsons added a Toyota franchise and the dealership was renamed Fort Dodge Ford Lincoln Mercury Toyota. The disappearance of the Mercury brand from the auto world led to the present name – Fort Dodge Ford Lincoln Toyota.

Almost six years ago, on Nov. 2, 2012, the business expanded to the Ames-Nevada market. Ames Ford Lincoln and Nevada Automotive were acquired. The Ames property sells new and used vehicles and has a comprehensive service department. The Nevada outlet is dedicated to used car sales, but also is a service center.

The three sites complement each other, Casey Johnson said.

“The big plus is we now have $25 million to $30 million worth of product available for our customers,” he said.

The most important new development in recent years, however, has been a change in ownership. Casey Johnson said the three dealerships are now owned jointly by him, his wife and their two sons and their spouses – Matt and Abigail Johnson and Nick Johnson and Jordan Johnson. Matt and Abigail Johnson’s young daughter Isabella is the seventh family member and third generation to be part of this undertaking.

Matt Johnson is the general manager in Fort Dodge. Nick Johnson handles the same function in Ames and Nevada.

Casey Johnson said he and his wife make their home in Fort Dodge and his role is divided among the three sites.

Matt and Casey Johnson both stressed that the involvement of so many family members in the three businesses is good for their customers and employees because it demonstrates a thoroughgoing Johnson commitment to keeping this growing automobile venture thriving far into the future.

“Now with the next generation we really are your full-service family store,” Matt Johnson said. “It is family-owned and operated. We’ve been here over 22 years. We plan to be here forever. … We’re here every day and truly love our employees and our customers.”

He said the Johnson family members regard the more than 160 employees who are involved in the three locations as part of an extended, workplace family.

“What we do wouldn’t be possible without their hard work and dedication,” Johnson said. “We owe our success to our employees and the job they do day in and day out. I’d like to give a public ‘thank you’ to our team.”

Casey Johnson underlined that point.

“These awards say ‘The Johnson Family’ but it’s really the employees that pull all this together,” he said. “If they don’t represent us properly, it doesn’t happen.”

Johnson said having family members regularly present wherever the company does business is an important part of the game plan.

“It’s important to have a family member at each site at any given time,” he said. “That way they know we’re committed. It puts forth our strong desire to make sure everything is how we want the dealership to be operated.”

Working together on this family endeavor has been personally fulfilling for family members.

“Working with the boys is really the icing on the cake for me,” Casey Johnson said.

Matt Johnson reciprocated that sentiment.

“I’m so fortunate that I get to work with my father every day,” he said. “To learn from him and have his guidance and leadership.”

Succeeding with Fort Dodge

Matt Johnson said part of the success of Fort Dodge Ford Lincoln Toyota is due to the community’s economic vitality.

“We are so fortunate that Fort Dodge is a great community,” Johnson said. “It’s exciting to see the economy growing. We get to play a small part in that. That’s been the best thing over the 22 years to watch our community change and grow and to see where it’s at today. And then for the next 20 years to see where we can go.”

Casey Johnson also had high praise for the forward-looking business, governmental and community leaders in Fort Dodge.

“We have to be on our best behavior to run a successful business but a good local economy certainly helps,” he said. “We thank the city leadership and everyone involved in making Fort Dodge and Webster County work.”

Changing world

The automotive marketplace is changing rapidly.

Today’s vehicles reflect innovative product developments.

“Technology, especially safety-related has been evolving so quickly,” Matt Johnson said.

“It’s just exciting in the car business right now with all the changes and developments and technology,” Casey Johnson said.

The way cars and trucks are sold has also changed due to the Internet.

“Most customers who come in have done research so the Internet has changed the buying process,” Matt Johnson said. “We want to be where our customers are so we sell through text message or through email or phone calls or whatever. We want to be responsive to customers’ needs. We want to make it very quick and transparent with an upfront and open policy. People can buy a car completely online if that’s how they prefer. We sold a car to customer in France. We shipped it.”

Casey Johnson elaborated on the how the online world makes selling cars different than when he got started in the industry.

“A complete credit application can be filled out online and submitted for bank approval and the car delivered to the individual without coming into the dealership and that has happened,” he said. “Truly it is worldwide. There can be days where we have more online requests than people who walk in the showroom. That would be hard to imagine 10 years ago.”

One thing that hasn’t changed at Fort Dodge Ford Lincoln Toyota is its unique sales process – “one-price selling.”

“There’s maybe less than 1 or 2 percent of dealers that do one-price selling and a noncommissioned sales force,” Casey Johnson said. “Whether we make money on a car or lose money on a car, the salesperson gets paid the same. That’s not the case anywhere else.”

Matt Johnson said the sales force at this dealership is focused on finding the best fit for the customer. Since they aren’t paid a commission based on the profitability of the sale they can focus on customer’s needs.

“We want lots of happy customers,” he said. “Their job is to find the best vehicle for the guest.”

Community involvement

The Johnsons have long been committed to helping make life better in the communities where they live and do business. Being good citizens is a key priority.

“We take our community involvement very seriously and we want to give back and help out,” Matt Johnson said, noting that a holiday project is will be in its 11th year this November. “We serve a Thanksgiving meal in November. Last year was almost 2,000 meals for people in the community. That’s a mixture of in the showroom and deliveries. We partner with a variety of businesses, employees and the Iowa Central culinary program.”

A fundraiser for the Humane Society of North Central Iowa – called the Fur Ball – is held annually in the Fort Dodge Ford Toyota showroom.

“That’s something we look forward to hosting,” Matt Johnson said. “It’s always a great night.”

Fort Dodge Ford Toyota has facilitated the local Wheels for Work program, which has placed approximately 70 vehicles since it began more than a decade ago to help families thrive. The selected recipients need dependable transportation to get to and from work. The program has been expanded to Ames, where about additional 30 vehicles have been placed.

For 22 years, the Johnsons have led the Sweetheart Gala annual fundraiser for the American Heart Association. The current chair of this initiative is Abigail Johnson.

Deb Johnson has taken a leadership role in an annual Breast Cancer Awareness luncheon that now takes place in both Fort Dodge and Ames. Various members of the family have been active in helping an assortment of other charitable undertakings succeed including supporting the recent rejuvenation of Meals on Wheels.

Casey Johnson and Matt Johnson each served as president of the Chamber of Commerce in Fort Dodge before it evolved into the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance. Matt Johnson is active in the Growth Alliance and is a past president of that key local community partnership.

“We’re very proud of is just being involved in the community and making sure everybody knows our facility is for the community,” Matt Johnson said, noting that the dealership welcomes the use of its showroom for charitable undertakings.

His father seconded that point.

“Our showroom is open to the public,” he said.