John Bleakley Ford has seen a great deal of changes during the 50 years the dealership has served Douglas County.
According to John Bleakley, Jr., who grew up in the business, his father, John Bleakley, Sr., who was born and raised in Ireland, and met his wife in Canada, didn’t start out in the automobile sales business. The elder Bleakley, now 80 and retired, was a member of the Canadian Mounted Police or “Mounties.”
Bleakley Sr. moved from Canada to Acworth in 1966, when two years later was recruited as general manager of Five Flags Ford in Douglasville, where he bought into the business.
Upon completion of the purchase, the dealership — then located at Fairburn Road at Duralee Lane — was renamed John Bleakley Ford. The dealership has become known for its backwards “K” in all of his signage and advertising — much to the displeasure of the Ford Motor Company, said Bleakley, Jr.
The current location was built on Thornton Road property in 1981 and has expanded since then. John Bleakley Ford has since completed a major remodeling in December 2014 at the automotive campus on 870 Thornton Road in Lithia Springs.
The dealership began with the main building, then expanded with a body shop and a used car building in the mid-1900s.
“I grew up in the business,” said Bleakley Jr., who holds the position of owner and president of the half-century old business. “At age 6, I remember sitting at dad’s desk and drawing with crayons and markers.”
Years later, Bleakey reflected, “I could have done anything I wanted, but I loved the business and the people.”
He has helped maintain the family business into a family-oriented business and the proof is in the longevity of many of his employees.
“We’ve got a lot of long-term employees,” he said. “That makes a huge difference. You’ve go to have a good core of people, I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of good people here.”
His service advisor, Warner Webb, has been with John Bleakley Ford for 47 years in May.
“He won’t take a day off,” said Bleakley. “He is a tremendous asset.”
Another long-time employee is Mary Godwin, who has been with the dealership for 37 years, joining Bleakley Ford right after high school. Bobby Lynch, who works in the parts department, has been with the company 40 years and Sheila Brawner has been office manager for 28 years.
Bleakley contributes a lot of success to his loyal, long-term employees.
“People like to buy from people they like,” he said.
Obviously, there have been a magnitude of changes within the automotive industry over the last 50 years — even as recent as within the last 10 years, said Bleakley.
Prior to the 1970s, contracts and calculations had to be written by hand.
“Things you take for granted — like fax machines,” he said. “Technology has been the biggest change in everybody’s life. People used to drive and shop for a new vehicle, but now they can find a car at their desk. It’s easier to deal with people who have more information.”
There isn’t as much lot traffic on a Saturday as there used to be, because most people have their mind made up to a certain degree, according to Bleakley.
And because of being able to find a car with a keystroke, the price is pretty much settled when they come in for a purchase.
“We are very honest when it comes to pricing and that helps you and it hurts you,” Bleakley said. “I don’t believe in bait and switch.”
He said today’s cars have better fuel mileage and reliability is better.
“We will continue with technology — such as self-driving cars — within the next 10 years and get in and take it wherever you want to go.”
During what Bleakley describes as “the great crash” the car dealership took a big hit along with many other businesses and had to lay some employees off.
“I hated that,” he admitted. “It was a tough call to make.”
He also witnessed people with a regular purchase routine get out of the cycle quickly.
“Through those times, everything was more uncertain,” Bleakley said.
Over the last two to three years as the economy has been improving, he said he’s witnessed people back to trading more frequently. He said the peak was in the 2000s, and car sales in the last four to five years have “steadily increased.”
“We never sold cars over 100,000 miles when I started in 1985,” said Bleakley. “Couples who would trade every two years are keeping them longer.”
What does the future hold for John Bleakley Ford?
“I’d like to see it still here 50 years from now,” he said, “but I won’t be here to see that. I plan on being there the next 10 to 15 years and hopefully the kids will want to be involved in this.”
Bleakley and his wife, Stephanie, met in high school and together have raised three children in Douglas County. He said he has no plans to move his Ford dealership anywhere else.
“Douglas County is home,” he said.
Bleakley said he enjoys keeping up the successful legacy his father began in 1968.
“He’s always been my hero,” Bleakley said of his father. “If he hadn’t been in the car business, I don’t know what I’d be doing. He taught me everything I know. It’s been so much fun.”
To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the car dealership will be rolling out a new logo and having some special activities to be announced later this year, Bleakley said.