The Findlay Story
By Mike Henle
In a country where modern-day families are splitting apart and going different directions, the Pete Findlay family stays together and works together. It's a refreshing example of old-time America, a story that could be taped to refrigerators all over the nation.
When the elder Findlay, now 81, opened his used car lot on East Fremont Street more than 40 years ago, he didn't have the foggiest idea that "Pete's Used Cars" would mushroom into Findlay Automotive Group.
With 15 franchises in Utah, Nevada and Arizona, the automotive giant has stretched to three generations of Findlays. Since moving his family to Southern Nevada from Panaca long before the Las Vegas economy erupted, the Pete Findlay story now includes son, Cliff, the president of Findlay Automotive Group; and grandson, Justin, a 26-year-old who now serves as general manger of Saturn of West Sahara.
It's a fascinating story of a family working together. What started out as a mom and pop car lot has developed into a tight-knit family operation - and the growth of the company isn't about to slow. Sales revenue was about $435 million mark in 2000, with more than 20,000 automobile sales. "It certainly is fulfilling," said Pete Findlay, who still rides his Harley Davidson motorcycle and plays golf. "You have to give a lot of that credit to Cliff and Ed (another son, who owns Findlay RV). I'd say the dedication from the kids has been a big key. They have always been very honest. It takes work on all sides to make something like this work and we've been very fortunate as a family.
And there's more and more happening all the time." Pete Findlay secured his first big franchise in May of 1961 when Findlay Olds was formed at 3024 E. Fremont St. Subaru was added to the location in 1971. Various other dealerships were added during the next several years, but it was the addition of Saturn in 1990 that really propelled the company. Saturn of West Sahara at 5325 W. Sahara Ave. began with two new vehicles to sell. The Saturn marketing phrase of "a different kind of company, a different kind of car" was welcomed like a long-lost friend throughout the nation, and the Findlay Automotive Group machine suddenly hit high gear.
The shot in the arm from Saturn literally vaulted the Findlay family to its current status as one of the largest privately owned companies in the state. The dealership would eventually sell more than 400 cars per month. Saturn of West Sahara was so well received that store personnel actually had to encourage customers to leave late at night.
The traffic was incredible, with every day like a last-minute Christmas shopping adventure. "By the year 1993, Saturn of West Sahara finally had enough inventory for their marketing to come to fruition," remembered Findlay Toyota General Manager Rich Abajian, then GM of the Saturn of West Sahara store. "With the inventory, Saturn of West Sahara's sales rocketed us to No. 1 in the country and Findlay Automotive was soon to follow with their renewed confidence. At that point in time, the philosophy that Saturn of West Sahara had was implemented throughout the organization, which led to the tremendous growth of Findlay Automotive."
Spurring another growth spurt was the addition of Findlay Toyota in 1998 and Shack Findlay Honda one year later. Both stores are in the Valley Auto Mall in Henderson. The Findlay Volkswagen/Subaru dealership is now under construction in the Valley Auto Mall, and there is speculation that the group will become the first to add dealerships in the southwest region of the Las Vegas Valley.
When Justin Findlay graduated with a bachelors degree in general business from the University of San Francisco in 1996, he had unlimited opportunities. He chose to join his family in business and jumped at the chance. He's amazed at the constant growth of the company. "I knew that this was a good opportunity," Findlay explained, adding that working with his family is like a dream-come-true. "I always knew that I'd be back. No two days are the same in the car business, and you're dealing with so many different people. It's certainly harder than college, that's for sure. My dad is very good to me, and I'm really fortunate." Added Cliff Findlay, "This really has been a dream-come-true. It's been a lot of hard work, but something that we can all be proud of."
And it goes without saying that there's no telling where all of this will end. People jump on board just to experience the acceleration of the Findlay machine. Cliff Findlay's wife of nearly 30 years, Donna, says the family works hard and plays hard --together.
The family sincerely cares about Southern Nevada, as evidenced by the fact the community received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations last year. Add to that the fact that the company capped a record year by giving $186,000 in Christmas bonuses to about 800 employees, and you can see why there are so many long-time employees.
From lot boys to general managers, everyone was patted on the back for a job well-done. "This goes all the way back to Pete," says Mrs. Findlay. "I've never known Pete to take advantage of anyone, and he's passed those values down to Cliff and Cliff has passed them down to Justin. They treat people the way they want to be treated. Every employee is important and every person is important. If this family has one fault, it's that they care too much sometimes. Everyone in this family is concerned about their community and their state. "It really is a good story. They really in truly work hard together and play hard together. They're very competitive people, but they don't beat up on one another. They treat business just like it's a game of golf. They really respect one another."
Four generations of Findlays recently gathered for a huge Thanksgiving celebration in Panaca. Whereas many families gather for an hour or two and then go their separate ways, this one had a memorable gathering that will be remembered for years to come. It's the American family the way American families used to be. ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY - Findlay Automotive Group founder Pete Findlay, center, is flanked by grandson Justin, left, and son, Cliff, in the family's Saturn of Henderson store.