Our agency is extremely humbled to be able to own a building with a rich history. Here is a brief history of the Bennett Automobile Agency and the building, by Guy Bennett Jr.
Wayland, a town tucked into the majestic Finger Lakes Region of New York, is rich in heritage and history. While Wayland has progressed, many things are the same as when Guy Bennett returned from service in World War I and teamed with his brother Homer to work in the still new evolving automobile business.
Initially, the brothers worked for the local Frank McCoy Ford dealer and later opened an independent automobile repair facility. After gaining a reputation as automobile repair experts and with the help of a mortgage on the family Bowles farm, in 1921 the brothers started construction of a building designed as a new car dealership. Still prominently displayed on the building front is, “Bennett Bros 1921.” The Dansville Garage selling Buicks went out of business, allowing Bennett Brothers to become a Buick Dealer on August 1, 1922.
As a result of the brothers’ hard work, the new business became successful. However, there were a few hiccups along the way. The Bennett dealership hit bottom in the depth of the depression selling only seven new cars in one year, but they survived along with only 66 other Buick agencies in the country. The less expensive Buick 1936 Special helped mount a comeback, and the number of dealerships grew to 317 nation-wide. In 1937 Bennetts sold 43.3% of all the new cars in their area. My Father said they sold more Buicks than Chevrolet and Ford together!
World War II also produced challenges when automobile production was ceased. At that time, Guy Bennett, Sr. operated a machine shop within the dealership making parts needed for the war effort. Not only did this production help the war effort, it helped provide the cash flow needed to keep the dealership open and operating.
The second generation of Bennetts entered the business in 1953 when Guy Bennett, Jr. left an engineering position with General Electric and joined the dealership. When Homer Bennett retired in 1964, Guy Senior and Junior formed Guy Bennett’s Buick Corp. The dealership became a third generation business in 1971 when Guy Brooks Bennett joined the business as a mechanical technician, later becoming Parts and Service Manager The business became Bennett Brothers again in 1979 when James Bennett joined the dealership as a salesman later becoming responsible for all new and used vehicle sales. With the new family members, the dealership operation reflected the efforts of grandfather, father, and sons.
Guy Bennett’s Buick continued to prosper for a long period of time when other car dealerships in Wayland closed. The Bennetts saw Ford, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Essex, Hudson, Maxwell, Studebaker, Dodge, Plymouth, Chrysler, DeSoto, Kaiser-Frazer and Packard close their doors in Wayland. We continued to sell around 100 Buicks per year. A strong point in Bennett’s operations had always been customer service and satisfaction. Car sales were made in the field, and when a car needed service, it was picked up, serviced, and returned to the customer’s location. This level of service and hard work coupled with a good product created customer loyalty.
General Motors closed many dealerships due to its financial problems, but despite a rather low sales volume, Bennetts was retained. In 1990, Bennetts added Chevrolet and Oldsmobile to its product line. These products were sold with the same level of customer service supplied to Buick buyers over the years. This level of service resulted in a customer satisfaction level that justified General Motors’ action to retain the dealership.
After almost 100 years, drive through Wayland today, and you will find Bennett Bros 1921 looks much the same. A building addition was constructed in 1924, and many years later the road was widened forcing the removal of the gas pumps. The operation was well into a third generation of Bennetts, but there is no outward sign of change.
In a time when many cars are sold through an internet connection, Bennetts had an internet site displaying its inventory. However, most of Bennetts’ sales were generated using the same model used by the original Bennett brothers. Large dealerships, a few miles down the road in a modern building offering the same brands competed with Bennetts. At Bennetts Chevrolet-Buick customer service and good products were generating around 70 new car and truck sales each year. Unfortunately, Chevrolet was responsible for the lion’s share of the sales, but Buick was still the car of choice for at least 15 new car buyers each year.
Since July 1, 1922, Bennetts sold Buicks at the same location and was still owned by the same family. The basis for sales was customer satisfaction. The internet rebates, and modern dealerships have their place, but as some things change, some things stay the same. Family pride, customer service, and hard work were part of the daily routine. However, the Bennetts are so pleased that the SWEMS purchased our building and will continue keeping its outside appearance as GM wanted commitments from the Bennetts that can longer be met.
Along the way, the Bennetts have acquired a nice collection of old Buicks; one of which Guy Jr. sold new to his first grade teacher and another to his sixth grade teacher.