The Garber Automall just outside of Green Cove Springs is one of many like it around the country, but what makes it special isn’t just the location or its variety of cars, but the people.
Leading those people for 25 years has been Ron Harris. He’s the managing partner of the dealership at 3380 U.S. Highway 17 and after more than 40 years in the vehicle sales business, he’s retiring. Taking his place is Mike Weinert, the current general sales manager who’s been with the Garber company for nearly 22 years.
“I had been chasing this job since the beginning,” Weinert said. “My goal was always to operate and manage an automall branch like this and that’s what I’ve worked toward these last 21 years.”
Weinert said getting to this point in his career was made easy by having Harris as a boss, a mentor and, most importantly, a friend. Harris hired Weinert right out of college in 1999. Harris said he recruited Weinert immediately after asking him what he wanted out of the vehicle sales business.
“I want your job,” Weinert told Harris and now, that simple statement decades ago has become a reality.
Harris is retiring at the end of the month and handing over the torch, or rather, keys, to Weinert and he’s confident he will continue to make that Garber Automall as special as it’s been for the past 25 years. Harris began working for a Garber Ford dealership in Green Cove Springs in 1995. Harris and Garber go back as early as pre-teen days so be it destiny or chance, Harris was eventually going to work with the Garber family company.
Garber bought additional dealerships in town over the next couple of years and eventually, the Garber dealership family was a fragmented conglomeration all throughout the city. The automall it’s known as today came to life on Nov. 8, 2004, and it’s continued to grow since.
What’s kept both Harris and Weinert with the company is that despite Garber’s large footprint in Clay County and the rest of the nation, it’s remained a family operation that treats its members and customers as equals. It’s not a massive corporation exclusively focused on making money, Harris said.
“It’s about treating everyone as equals and giving our customers the best,” Weinert said. “It’s a rather unusual company in this day and age because we aren’t corporate. We treat everyone like family and strive to give our customers consistent, quality service.”
Harris said they and are biased about their dealership, but Harris encourages anyone to ask former customers of Garber what they think of the company, or they can read the Google reviews. The comments speak for themselves, he said.
One thing the two are especially proud of is that with 17 department leads, the average career time in those positions in 13 years, with some working as long as 30 years. It proves a commitment to the company and to the ideals of the Garber workplace.
“We don’t have a lot of turnover and that speaks volumes,” Harris said. “I’ve always been really proud of that. We’ve had children in strollers being pushed around the dealership grow up to be employees at the dealership. Our people want to work here and we’re proud of that.”
As the years have passed by, so too has the way vehicle dealerships operate. People are online narrowing down their options before they step on the lot. They have miniature computers in their phones and do a lot of the talking salespeople with it. Weinert and Harris said the automall has thrived because the people are dedicated to advancing forward with new changes based on the times.
If people want a car delivered to their house so they can check it out, a delivery will happen. It’s about what the customer wants, Weinert said, and it’s important for the company to meet them at every step.
Another important piece of the Garber Automall success story is the community outreach. Harris said the Clay County community has always been extremely welcoming and kind to the dealership, and that’s why the company does what it does for Clay County: scholarships, charity work, donations, community service and more. For example, Garber is a Friend of the Fair, a group that provides the highest level of support.
“Ron has taught me how to lead and how to do so effectively,” Weinert said. “He’s always been one to show people rather than simply tell and that’s something that’s extremely important to me as well. It’s about letting people try new things and learning from their mistakes and learning what does and doesn’t work, something he’s always allowed me.”
Harris said he feels great about retiring and turning the keys over to Weinert.
“He’s so empathetic for people, which is extremely important in sales and customer service,” Harris said. “He listens and truly tries to understand everyone’s specific situation. He knows this industry better than most and most importantly, he understands that the tallest buildings are built on strong foundations.
“The Garber Automall has always had a strong foundation and I know Weinert knows how to keep that intact, and build this building, as it were, even higher.”