L'ANSE - Having worked side by side with his late father for 10 years, Kent Thomas understands what it takes to run a successful family business.
"Being in a small community, it's about looking after your customers and that was what my father was all about. He got to live his dream for 33 years," Kent said of his father, Larry Thomas, who was founder and president of Thomas Ford Motors of L'Anse. "We've been carrying that on and I haven't made any changes because I agree with his business philosophies. I think that's always a good thing with a family business is having shared philosophies."
Thomas Ford Motors, located at 18042 U.S. 41 in L'Anse, is Baraga County's Ford dealer offering a wide range of new and Ford Certified Pre-owned vehicles such as the Focus, Fusion, Mustang, Taurus, Taurus X, F-150, Escape, Edge, Ranger, Explorer, and Expedition, among others. The dealership specializes in Ford sales, finance, parts and service, tires, and provides rent-a-car services for customers.
Thomas Ford Motors General Manager Kent Thomas stands beside a 2009 Ford F-150 FX4 Off-Road Edition on display in the showroom of the L’Anse dealership. Featuring all the bells and whistles, the FX4 Off-Road package includes several upgrades designed for improved performance.
Kent grew up around his father's dealership, which originated in the downtown district in 1975. It first opened on Main Street in the former Baraga County Motors building before moving to a more visible location off the highway more than a decade ago.
"The new building gives us a lot more room to grow and we have all the latest technology as far as mechanics," Kent said. "We have in-floor heating for the comfort of the mechanics and we're able to be a lot more organized."
Thomas Ford Motors utilizes the latest technology in its service and parts department to ensure the job is done right the first time. For example, Kent said, they utilize a state-of-the-art computerized road force machine for precision tire balancing.
"Our service department is award winning. Our service manager (Bill Kautto) has been with us for just over 23 years," Kent said. "We also have an excellent parts department. Not only do we work hard at getting all Ford parts in a timely fashion but we're able to hunt down after-market parts and specialty accessories for customers."
Browsing new and used vehicles on the lot is rather convenient for customers.
"You can just drive through," Kent said. "It's a real accessible lot."
If a customer is looking for a particular vehicle that isn't already on the lot, Kent said they can usually get it through their connections with other dealerships.
"Our network of obtaining and trading with other dealers is a wonderful thing because we're able to share information," he said. "We can look at each other's new and used inventories. We've gone out and picked up vehicles for people that might not have been on our lot. We always try to carry inventory with a variety."
In today's economy, Kent said they've really had to step up their game to keep the business moving forward.
"It's been a lot busier in our service department because we're fixing a lot of older vehicles," he said. "Vehicle sales have slowed down a little bit but we have persevered through that by doing it with no hassles. When people come in, it's a hassle-free environment."
Kent, who has been the general manager of Thomas Ford Motors for the past 10 years, said he is blessed to have had the opportunity to work beside his father before his passing in March of 2008. Kent's mother, Carrielou Thomas, is now the owner and together they are continuing the family business.
"My father was the master of keeping a positive light, even in tough times," Kent said. "We're continuing to move forward. That's something we work very diligently to do to continue to keep satisfied customers."
Like his father, Kent is very active in the community, having served on the Baraga County Community Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce.
"He was my inspiration for becoming a community guy," Kent said. "It's about making the place we live a better place."
As he looks to the future, Kent said he can wholeheartedly say that the programs Ford is going to be offering is going to be fantastic.
"It will continue to be phenomenal in what kinds of savings you can have on buying a new vehicle," he said. "Ford is very aggressive in their campaign for marketing and they don't plan on holding anything back. That will help Ford and that will help the dealers, like Thomas Ford Motors, to continue moving forward."
Additionally, he said the level of quality Ford is putting into its new lines has been very impressive.
"The 2010 Fusion is taking the limelight away from the foreign market. It's going to be the highest fuel economy hybrid car coming," Kent said. "Even Consumer Reports, who's never usually been one for domestics, has been praising it steady."
Added to the Ford lineup is the Flex, a seven-passenger vehicle replacing the minivan, and the new 2009 F-150.
"It has been completely revamped from the frame up. People will notice the difference when they drive that vehicle," Kent said. "It's impressive and they've upped the fuel economy on the trucks."
Thomas Ford Motors is a Blue Oval Certified Ford Dealer.
Thomas Ford Motors is located at 18042 U.S. 41 in L'Anse. Business hours for sales are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; for service and parts 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; and Saturday by appointment for sales. Call 524-6112, 800-754-9357 or visit thomasfordmotors.com
Editor's note: This feature is part of a paid advertising package purchased by Thomas Ford Motors of L'Anse. Businesses interested in being featured on the Business page may call Yvonne Robillard at 483-2220.