Bell Ford in Arlington was recently awarded “Business of the Year” by the Columbia County Economic Development Corporation – a recognition that owner Nolan Campbell credits to an evolving atmosphere at the company, in addition to longstanding community support and hardworking employees.
The annual CCEDC awards were presented in November. A variety of area companies were nominated and to have won the business honors was a remarkable feeling for Campbell, who took over Bell Ford three years ago.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of really good companies in the community,” Campbell said. “It’s very humbling to know that you’re recognized within the community that way. There’s some pretty healthy businesses out there that do good for their communities, too.”
Campbell, who became an employee at Bell Ford at age 16, said the company is fortunate to have a wide customer base and employees “who are in the trenches every day.”
Bell Ford, which has been going through a number of changes since Campbell took over the company from former owner Bill Bell, has recently seen a surge of growth, which prompted an onsite project that will be finished soon.
The project, an expansion of the used car lot, will add about 80 more parking stalls. Although heavy rains over the end of the summer and into the fall pushed the project back, Campbell said it will soon be graveled and ready to park vehicles on. In the spring, the lot will then be paved, completing the project.
This development may be one of more in the future for Bell Ford, according to Campbell.
“At the rate of growth that we’ve experienced in just three years, I don’t think it’s unforeseen that we add on to our shop and showroom down the road,” he said. “I think it’s pretty predictable at this point.”
Campbell noted that the main reason for that progress comes from the internal transformation at Bell Ford since moving into the new building back in 2014. He said with that new building came a fresh start and an open space, which in turn helped the company to focus on its goals of bettering each customer’s experience.
“It was our primary focus when we moved – we had an opportunity to create a whole new culture, not that we had a bad one downtown, but we had an opportunity with a brand new facility,” Campbell said. “It just energized everyone that much more; the employees worked harder than ever before. It was an exciting time. Once we landed that culture, we knew that we could improve on the customer experience.”
Dedicated employees drive success
Along with improving the culture of Bell Ford, Campbell noted that the company’s success and growth has also come from dedicated employees, such as Marge Kreitzman, who has worked for Bell Ford for 35 years.
Kreitzman retired from her position as finance manager last week, after initially being asked by Bill Bell, grandson of founder William Bell, to work at the dealership years ago.
Although Kreitzman will stay on in a part-time role to do some accounting, she said it was tough to think about leaving the business.
“People are always amazed that I’ve been at one dealership for so many years, but it’s been nice,” Kreitzman said. “The employees here really care about the customers and I’m finding out the customers really care about the employees at Bell Ford, too.”
Kreitzman said she was fortunate to have worked at the company, calling her 35 years “truly an honor.”
“I’ve never had to go to bed at night and think, ‘oh I don’t want to get up and go to work the next day,’” she said. “So, I was lucky with that part of it.”
Kreitzman, who looks forward to spending time with her grandchildren and getting snowed in at her cabin during retirement, has seen big changes to the dealership industry over the last three decades. Most of those changes came with the development of the Internet.
“It used to be really exciting,” Kreitzman said. “When I first started at the dealership, the new car models would come out in September and we would have paper in all of the windows, so nobody could look into the showroom. It was a big hoopla kind of thing.”
Community support contributes to vitality
Although times and leadership have changed at Bell Ford over the years, Campbell said, in addition to the employees, there has been another stable aspect to the business – community support.
“Back in the day, a dealership was kind of the foundation of a community and now a lot of these dealerships have fallen off and moved on,” Campbell said. “The big ones are the ones that have survived, but to have the small ones thrive in small communities, it’s really just the dedication of the people within the community to the business, as well. We feel that it is our responsibility to earn that.”
According to Campbell, Bell Ford’s business spans across the area, from Poynette to Rio to DeForest. Parallel to customers’ support, Campbell feels community involvement across the board is crucial.
“We want to be revered as a company that is always going to do what’s best for our community,” he said.
From support for the Arlington Fire Department, where two volunteers are Bell Ford employees who receive compensation when they leave work on a call, to sponsoring local youth sports, the business is widely active in area communities, according to Campbell.
“We have nothing owed to us,” he said. “We have to make sure that we can earn community support and involvement is a big part of it.”