Skyline Ford’s footprint on Commercial Street is growing, and the dealership is expanding
The owners of Skyline Ford on Commercial Street SE purchased the adjacent property, enabling them to expand, consolidate operations and better serve customers.
The family-owned dealership, which has been serving Salem for more than 60 years, will move its excess inventory, used car outlet and separate detail shop to the new property at 2650 Commercial, the site of the former Withnell Dodge.
“Most car dealers have outgrown their facilities,” said Jim Donofrio, president of Donofrio LLC, which also owns a Mercedes-Benz and Acura dealership across the street and a Skyline Ford in Keizer. “Our ability to serve has reached its limit.”
The purchase doubles Skyline Ford’s service capacity in South Salem. The agency also plans to open a fleet service center at the new location.
The sale was completed on Friday. Financial details were not disclosed, although everyone involved agreed it would not have happened without the friendship and history between the D’Onofrio and Withnell families.
“We did it the old-fashioned way, by kind of shaking hands,” Donofrio said. “Deals don’t happen that way anymore. If anything happened, we had to convince our lawyers.”
Property deal ‘makes sense’
The Donofrios family are third generation owners of Skyline Ford. Jim’s father, Don, bought the dealership in 1962. Now his son, P.J., and daughter, Ali, have ownership stakes. BJ is vice president, and Ali manages business operations.
“I always tell everyone that B.J. makes the money, and Ali counts it,” Jim said.
The Withnells are second generation car dealers in Salem. Dick Withnell bought Teague Dodge in 1980, put the family name on it in the mid-1990s, and then sold the company to his son, David, in 2002.
David Withnell, as Withnell Motor, continues to operate Withnell Hyundai on Mission Street. As part of the deal, he acquired the adjacent property at 1940 Mission St. SE, where Skyline kept its excess inventory and sold used cars.
The deal took nearly a year, before David Withnell decided to sell the Dodge/Ram franchise in March. His parents still owned the property, and he wanted to protect their interests, so he discussed a business opportunity with BJ Donofrio.
“We talked several times over the course of the year to put the deal together,” David Withnell said. “This idea came to fruition largely from what we originally discussed. We improved our operations, acquiring properties adjacent to what we already had. It just made sense.”
Longevity and success among local families
Both fathers and sons recently sat around the conference table and talked to the Statesman Journal about the deal and how the business has changed.
The children took different paths, following in the footsteps of their fathers.
At a young age, B.J. D’Onofrio seemed destined to best his father at the game of “What kind of car is that?” On the highway. David Withnell didn’t catch the bug until after college, but he was also a natural at it.
“I think we were fortunate that our kids were really good at what we were good at,” Jim Donofrio said. “It’s really unusual in the auto industry for a second generation to survive in this business, because it’s not easy. You have a lot of sleepless nights.”
Two other families also enjoyed the same longevity and success – the Casebeers and the Robersons. Casebeers’ Capitol Auto Group includes Subaru, Chevrolet, Toyota and Cadillac dealerships. Roberson Motors dealers include Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram.
“There are four of us, and it’s unbelievable, we’ve managed to survive in the car business in this city, from generation to generation,” Jim D’Onofrio said.
Friendly competition stimulates business for everyone
The Donofrios and Withnells have been vying for the attention of car buyers on Commercial Street for more than four decades.
“There was a lot of competition,” Jim Donofrio said. “But there was always a lot of respect. We’ve all stayed friends in a very competitive business, which is kind of cool.”
The parents come from a generation in which the thirteen or so merchants in Salem met regularly. They would talk business, socialize, and collaborate for charitable causes.
Dick Withnell said they believed that if the community was viable and other traders were successful, they would all be successful. They even marketed the events together.
“We had truck wars in the 1980s,” he said. “We were driving behind Fords, but that actually created more traffic.”
BJ Donofrio said he never looked at it as a competition between local dealers.
“I always felt like Salem was competing with everyone,” he said, recalling the time when three merchants from out of town put up a billboard on the commercial street. “It’s the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen my grandfather.”
Local dealers responded with a “Buy Salem” campaign, using the same license plates on their cars.
Regular meetings between owners faded in the early 2000s to once every two months. Attendance declined as offshore and publicly owned companies acquired some local agents.
B.J. D’Onofrio pointed out how family-owned locations are diminishing across the country, a fact he shared when he attended a recent Ford meeting, and how being family-owned creates a different atmosphere.
“Employees are treated differently if the owner still goes into the store and hugs everyone,” his father said.
Skyline Ford invests in the future
The new facility will allow Skyline Ford to centralize operations, making it more convenient for employees, not just customers.
The agency has about 160 employees at the Commercial Street location.
The additional space will allow Skyline to better serve more customers, especially in the service department. The current layout is cramped, with limited parking.
The Donofrios also hope to fill a need in Salem, by offering a fleet service center that can handle the volume and quick turnaround of businesses with multiple vehicles for delivery services or employee sales and travel.
“We have the market and the customers to do it,” Jim D’Onofrio said. “We want to offer customers in the city who have fleets a place where they can drop off their cars on Friday and pick them up on Monday when they’re done with everything. This gives us the space to be able to do that.”
Some work and retrofits will be done to the former Dodge location before Skyline Ford fully moves in and installs signage. But this weekend, the plan is to move cars from Mission Street to the new property.
Kaby Lane is a 34-year veteran reporter and columnist for the Statesman Journal. She can be reached at 503-399-6710 or clynn@StatesmanJournal.com,