Dale Willey was born and raised a car man, so it's no surprise to him that he's still selling automobiles after more than 35 years in the business.
Willey, owner of Dale Willey Pontiac-Cadillac-GMC Truck, 2840 Iowa, was recognized Friday by Pontiac Motors Division for his 25 years of franchise ownership in Lawrence. Customers and staff celebrated the recognition with a special dinner at the store.
Willey's father owned a used-car dealership and later a Chevrolet-Oldsmobile dealership in Lee's Summit, Mo., before his death in 1965. Willey carried on the car-sales tradition and began working for a dealership in Lee's Summit before buying the Lawrence business in 1970.
Over the years, the dealership expanded three times as the city grew, beginning from a small site at 1040 Vt. The original dealership was a Pontiac-Cadillac-AMC-Jeep-Renault facility. He dropped three of the franchise titles in 1981 and acquired the GMC truck franchise in 1990.
Last year, Willey expanded the business a fourth time by opening a used-car sales and car service facility at 2216 W. Sixth.
Willey, former president of the Kansas Automobile Dealers Assn., said he constantly monitors the national car sales scene. Mass consolidation of dealerships by national manufacturers is the latest trend, he said.
Through the years, cars have gone through many changes, he said. Today they are safer and made with higher-quality parts, but progress has its price.
"I can remember selling a car for less than $4,000," he said. "That same car today is more than $20,000."
Willey said it takes hard work and long hours to own a dealership, but when you like what you do, it's worth it.
"I get a kick out of making people happy, and that sounds silly and trite, but it's true," the 54-year-old said.
In addition to his business obligations, Willey is busy with his three -- soon to be five -- grandchildren. He and his wife, Jan, have five grown daughters.