Albany Auto and Sierra Auto
By Patrick Butler
Mike Widdes and Abas Fard probably don’t have much in common except their interest in cars and repeat customers.
Widdes and his brother Jason grew up on the North Side and took over Albany Auto, 4030 N. Rockwell where their father left off. They do the usual mechanical and body work, and will even sell you a restored classic car.
In a small showroom, here’s a British made Triumph TR 3 dating from the 1950s Widdes said could “probably sell for surprisingly modest $30,000 today and a 1929 Dodge Brothers sedan Widdes said he picked up at an auction in Michigan, but won’t say where.
“We sell a lot of vintage cars overseas” including “a Sports Roadster to someone in Kuwait recently,” he said.
Mike Widdes, in fact, has more than 30 vintage vehicles in a showroom just off the auto repair shop originally built to maintain the Widdes family’s personal car collection.
But, he added, all cars are equal today when they come for repairs or tune ups at Albany Auto, which gives every vehicle a washing before it leaves the shop. “I think we’re one of the few body shops that does that,” he said.
Not far away, at the Sierra Auto showroom at 4207 N. Western, owner Abas Fard has clearly come a long way from his native Iran, which he fled in the mid-1970s after the Shah was overthrown.
“I was married with two little kids,” needed to make a good living and didn’t went to be an employee.
So Fard and a partner each invested $8,000 to start a used car business at School and Western. Today he’s the sole owner with five locations (three along Western Avenue, another at Cicero and Fullerton, and a the fifth on the South Side at 8500 S. Commercial.)
Until the Great Recession hit, Sierra Auto Group was selling about 2,400 cars a year. Although sales dropped to half that when the Great Recession hit, none of Fard’s employees lost their jobs. Fard said that’s because he owned all his locations and the cars in his showrooms, so he didn’t owe anyone anything.
It also helped that he knows how to attract and keep good people even to the point of helping them further their education to make them even more valuable. That loyalty goes both ways, he smiled, noting that his office manager has earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree since she started with him fresh out of high school 15 years ago.
But then, enhancing employee skills has become commonplace in the used car industry, which has undergone a sea change since the days when the business was dominated by hustlers preying on clueless customers.
“The whole business has changed over the past 20 years or so,” said Fard, adding that salespeople have had to become more professional as the customers have been reading a lot more consumer reports than they did in the past.
All Sierra customers get a free service contract Fard says doesn’t make him a penny. The profits, Fard explained, come as customers return again and again to buy their cars at Sierra.
Like the Widdes Brothers, Fard believes the better informed customers are, the better off their businesses become.
The more a dealership encourages consumers to buy only from a reputable business, “not a hustler like Joe in the back alley,” the more they’re likely to realize people get what they pay for.