[ The following article was featured in ABEC’s Small Business Review ]
“We do business with character.” Ballas Buick GMC, Inc. serves the Toledo and surrounding areas guided by this motto. Customers, employees and the community at large are beneficiaries of the character, courtesy and moral fiber that Ballas Buick GMC has provided the community over the years. With a singular dealership, Ballas distances itself from of the mega-dealership image. “I’m in it to do it right,” said owner Marianne Ballas.
Ballas purchased the dealership in 2004 after the passing of original owner, George Ballas. The late George Ballas served as Marianne’s mentor for many years and she credits him for many of the business skills serving her today. “I quote George every day,” she said.
Marianne celebrates forty years of experience at the same dealership. “I started in 1969 as a clerk and receptionist to pay my way through college,” she said. As an elementary education major at the University of Toledo, she watched many of her friends graduate within the major yet unable to find employment in education. She continued working at Ballas Buick GMC, taking advantage of training opportunities like the GMC accounting school. She eventually became the dealership’s book keeper and cashier. “We had a one-girl office and I was it. I just decided to stay.”
“Neither of my two grandmothers ever drove a car, now I own my own dealership. Only in America can something like that happen in only two generations,” Ballas said.
For many years, Marianne ran the Budget Rental Car portion of the Ballas dealership. “I was running a business within the business. I built an entire skill set. I did the hiring, bought and sold cars, made insurance adjustments, negotiated contracts. I became bottom-line oriented,” she said.
Nationally, less than one percent of car dealerships are owned by women. GM’s program, the Women’s Retail Network, helps women within the industry as they work toward or take on the role of dealership owner. The program was vital in helping Marianne purchase the dealership franchise, offering a financing partnership that she will pay off next year.
Buick GMC responded to 2008’s economic crisis and subsequent gutting of the automobile industry by transforming the products coming out of Detroit. Marianne describes the first version of the Buick Enclave as the company’s first renaissance project. The Baby Enclave debuts in 2012 and is a compact version of the original Enclave. Marianne’s mom purchased the first new Verano sold at Ballas this year, a premium luxury compact car that boasts 32 miles per gallon. “Buick is the number one seller in China and is also very popular in South America,” she said, describing its appeal as somewhat of a European or continental style with impressive technology, innovation and power. She notes that the average age of today’s Buick Regal buyer is forty-two.
New and higher emission standards established by the government are already evolving into new vehicle production. Marianne said, “It is the right thing to do and we need to get away from foreign oil dependency, but pushing too fast is going to drive the price of cars up too fast for the average consumer.”
Ballas is proud of the contributions given back to the community by area auto dealers through an organization called Auto Dealers United for Kids. She chaired the gala event called “Cars are the Stars” last year when the group exceeded the one million dollar mark in gifting to kids programs and local charities. She said that it is the most successful regional charitable program among car dealerships in the country. The 2012 event is scheduled for Jan. 25. She is also president of the University of Toledo’s Women in Philanthropy organization which has gifted over $150,000 back to the University. She was recently awarded the Pacemaker of the Year Award from U.T., only the second woman to receive this honor. The award combining business excellence with both community and university support and places her name among a legacy of individuals who have earned the award over its fifty year history.
“My philosophy is that you have to give back where you earn and learn. It is a moral obligation. When you take money out of a community, when a community supports you and your business, you want your community to grow and prosper,” she said.
Ballas has matured in the business and knows it from the inside out, due to her many years of experience in numerous aspects of a dealership. That experience has landed her in positions of trust on boards representing Buick GM dealerships and her leadership is recognized on both local and national levels. She encourages women to consider the automobile dealership business when choosing a career. “Don’t be afraid,” she says. “It’s not the same ‘good old boys’ network as in the past. Women come to the table with different ideas and express them in a little different way. I think it softens the whole atmosphere in the car business.”
“Find something you love to do and attach yourself to someone you admire. Use them as a mentor and attach yourself to that star and just learn. It will eventually raise you up.”
You can call on Ballas at 419.535.1000 or stop by at 5715 Central Ave. Toledo OH 43615.
Ballas Honors & Distinctions:
- #1 volume Buick dealership in Ohio (2010)
- GM Mark of Excellence- 2009 & 2010-
- Only awarded to the top 50 dealers defining them as the “finest dealers who have committed themselves to unsurpassed performance and customer satisfaction.”
- BBB Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics Winner- 2007
- UT College of Business & Innovation’s Business Pacemaker of the Year 2011
- 5/3 Bank Platinum Dealer Award
- Professional Parts Guild Dealership Award
- President of the Buick/GMC Local Marketing Group (Marianne Ballas)
- Elected to the Buick/GMC National Dealer Council (Marianne Ballas)
- Board of Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce (Marianne Ballas)
- University of Toledo Foundation Board member (Marianne Ballas)
- Board of Toledo Hospital (Marianne Ballas)