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Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog

November 05, 2008

All In The Family

In Swanton, Vermont, there is a small, family-owned Ford dealership by the name of EJ Barrette & Sons. The sons have long since grown up; these days a customer is likely to be greeted by EJ’s 3-year-old great-great-granddaughter Bella, or Maggie the showroom dog. I met these nice folks through Auto Finder and recently drove north to take in the down-home atmosphere and query the descendents of EJ Barrette about what makes them unique.

Ej_barrette BOB KILPATRICK: How long has EJ Barrette been in business?
JON BARRETTE: It was started in 1922 by my grandfather, Elias Jeffrey. That’s where the EJ came from. My dad took it over after that. I was the next generation, and now we have the three kids here to follow on.

BK: How old were you when you started working here?
JB: Probably 9 or 10 years old, washing cars. I went on to college and graduated in 1968. I was in the Air Guard for 29 years and, other than deployments, I’ve been here.

BK: 1968 was pretty much the middle of the muscle-car era. You guys must have seen some sweet rides come across the parking lot.
JB: I had a very limited-edition Boss 429 — that was in ’69. I had a 1968 Cobra Jet 428 and a 351 Mach1 in ’71.

BK: Those must have been some fun cars. Did you get yourself in any trouble?
JB: Not any more than anyone else!

BK: How many of your family members work here?
JB: There’s the three kids, my sister, my wife and myself.

Photo Front Row: Maggie, the showroom dog, and Bella, the greeter
Back Row (L to R): Linda Barrette, Aaron Barrette, Meredith Barrette, Jon Barrette, Paula Barrette Howrigan, Sara Barrette

BK: Is Ford doing anything new that would be of interest to car drivers?
JB: Quality. Our quality is equal to, or better than, Toyota or Honda. There were eras where we didn’t do as well as we should have, but we’ve certainly surpassed that now. We have more to offer, we really do. Buying foreign, even if it’s built over here, the components come from overseas. With the economy struggling, people don’t realize that 80 percent of the content comes from overseas, which is jobs. They’re glued together here, but these big companies take their profits and they bring them back overseas. People do not understand that. They want the economy to flourish, but they don’t want to participate.

BK: What’s your role here, Sara [Jon’s daughter]?
SARA BARRETTE: I think everybody does a little bit of everything. Mostly I do the advertising, Internet sales, computer repair and some selling.

BK: What’s the advantage that your dealership brings to its customers?
SB: We know everybody by their names. We often know what vehicle they have and what vehicle they had five years ago. A lot of customer loyalty, a lot of repeat buying, because they know where to find us if they’ve got a problem, if they’ve got a question, if they need a loaner. We get calls all times of the day and night. [Customers] know we’re going to be honest and give them the truth. Sometimes it’s good news, sometimes it’s not, but they know they’re going to get the truth from us.

BK: How does that work for the customers?
SB: Most people who end up buying here buy here because they immediately feel like they’re one of our good friends or one of the family, even if they’ve never walked in here before. I’ve had a few people say that to me; they just immediately felt it, with the kids running around and the dogs coming up to them. Their kids can go and play with Bella’s toys that are everywhere.

BK: What would surprise people about EJ Barrette?
SB: I think that we’re pretty competitive with our price. People think that because we are small we can’t compete with big places on pricing. We’ve been around so long, we don’t have a lot of overhead — we own our building. We’re not big and splashy. When you come here and buy a vehicle, you’re only paying for the vehicle, you’re not paying for our building, or our trips to Italy. When you look at the bottom line and you’re comparing apples to apples, I think we’re very competitive on price — and above and beyond on service.

Suddenly joined by Bella Barrette:
BB: Bwa wa wa wa

BK: What kind of car would you buy?
BB: A pink one and a purple one.

SB: Would you ever get a truck?
BB: No, I’m not a boy.

SB: Nothing cracks me up more than when I’m sitting in here doing my work and I hear her say [to a customer], “Would you read me a book?” while they’re waiting for their car to get serviced.

Editor’s Note: That’s just the sort of experience you’ll likely have if you venture up to this family-owned Ford dealership. If you ever find yourself in need of a new or used car or truck consider swinging by EJ Barrettes and see for yourself what they’ve got to offer. From what I’ve seen I’d expect that they’ll do their very best to make sure you’re another satisfied customer.

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