by Patrick Marek
Walz Chevrolet Buick GMC Purchased by Dahl Automotive
Tuesday’s press conference had the feel of a wedding, rather than of the announcement of a business acquisition. Two of the Upper Midwest’s most venerable automotive families said “I do” to the purchase of Walz Chevrolet Buick GMC by Dahl Automotive. The agreement brings together two companies with over 180 years of automotive service to the Winona and La Crosse areas.
The closing was a bittersweet moment for Walz Chevrolet owner Jack “Butch” Walz, who represents the last of three generations of Walz automotive dealership owners in Winona. However, he maintains that handing the keys of his dealership to the Dahl family was an easy decision—based on succession, a changing marketplace, and values.
“From my viewpoint, an owner’s main goal in life is to provide succession,” Walz explained. “I have two sons who are both successful in their own ventures, but don’t share my interest in the car business. So, it was up to me to find a buyer I was comfortable with as far as vision and family values are concerned. We had a number of suitors, but most of them were from big city owners with no local ties. The Dahl family filled all the boxes. I believe that we are on the same page on visions, values, and beliefs. That made it an easy decision to entrust my family of employees to them.”
“With the uncertainty of the impact of the new Interstate Bridge, my number one priority was to provide a seamless transition for my people,” Walz continued. “The scariest thing that I could imagine happening was that the state would come to me and say that they couldn’t find a place to relocate the dealership, and that they were going to have to buy me out. If I were to say: ‘What about my employees?’ they would say: ‘It’s not up to us.’ Well…it is up to me. I’ve got 40 families at Walz. This sale was the best way to provide for them. The Dahl family has rehired 99 percent of the Walz employees. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
For the five generations of family who represent Dahl Automotive, the opportunity to purchase Walz Chevrolet Buick GMC was the best early Christmas present ever.
Harry Dahl II is the fourth generation of the Dahl family in the car business. His 97-year-old father, Kenny, still has a keen interest in the day to day operations of Dahl Automotive. Harry’s three sons: Andrew, Tyler, and Jansen, all have key executive roles in the family’s dealerships. Harry has a reputation for community service and ethical leadership that has helped shape the company’s core values.
He has this message for current Walz guests and for the Winona community:
“The arrangement that we have worked out with Butch is a seamless one that is in the best interest of all the guests. We have a lease agreement at the present facility that will take us out two or three years, and then we will move into our new facility. That may be on the site of our Toyota dealership, or it may be in another location. For the near future the dealership will stay in its current location and continue to operate as it has.”
“Obviously we’re ecstatic,” said Andrew Dahl, who will be the dealer principal of the Chevrolet Buick GMC dealership. “Our tagline is ‘A Generation Ahead,’ so we’re always looking toward the future. We are pumped up to say the least, about the chance to give our guests and team members new opportunities with General Motors. It’s a competitive market out there, and now we’ll be able to offer a bigger selection of vehicle choices for our guests. We’re very excited to get back into the Chevy business. Our Great Uncle Chet was the largest Chevrolet dealer in the world back in the 1920s and 1930s, so it’s great to continue that tradition. We’ve been in Winona with our Toyota dealership for couple of years, so we’ve had the opportunity to get to know the community very well. Chevy and General Motors definitely run deep in Winona. There are a number of Chevy, Buick, and GMC guests in this town, and we’re looking forward to introducing them to the Dahl ‘Gotta tell my friends about you,’ guest experience. When you come into a Dahl store we’re going to treat you like a guest in our home. That’s the kind of attitude we encountered at Walz, and that’s the philosophy we instill with everyone on our team.”
The Dahl family has acquired a number of dealerships and franchises over the years, but there were many things about the Walz purchase that made it a special and exceptionally positive experience for everyone involved.
“Over the last few weeks we had the chance to meet with everyone from the Walz team individually,” Andrew Dahl said. “We didn’t really consider it interviewing, it was just sitting down and having a conversation.
We talked about their current roles, what they love about Walz, and what suggestions they had for improvements. What we discovered is that the hearts of everyone here are very similar to the rest of our team members at our other stores. They are passionate about the business, they love what they do, and they are excited to get up every day and come to the dealership.
These are the type of people that we want with us. We were excited to find that we didn’t have to start over with a clean slate. It was very encouraging for us to know that we can hit the ground running with a great team of car people who love the business. We’re very pleased to announce that Steve Betthauser will continue to lead the dealership in his role as General Manager. Steve will also be keeping his current sales, service, parts and administrative leadership team, including Mike Norris (General Sales Manager), Tommy Stockstill (Parts Manager), Dawne Betthauser (Internet Manager), Bill Nogosek (Controller), Gigi Larson (Office Manager), and Ron Albrecht (Business Manager).”
“The Winona community itself will benefit from our purchase of the Walz organization,” Harry Dahl added. “We get involved in the community and we are committed to making a positive impact. We established the Dahl Family Foundation several years ago. It’s a charitable foundation, and we give thousands of dollars every year to worthwhile charities. Andrew has been very active as a dealer in Winona with the Great River Shakespeare Festival, the Winona Community Foundation, and other worthwhile causes. Our purchase of Walz will allow us to increase and expand our donations. That’s part of our core family values. It’s who we are.”