Since the former Rozier Ford Lincoln became J.C. Lewis Ford's Statesboro dealership, customers are finding a much larger selection of cars, trucks and SUVs, but many of the same sales and service people they already know.
J.C. Lewis Ford President Walter Lewis, his mother Nancy Lewis and several other family members came to the Statesboro location on U.S. 301 South to celebrate its grand opening. Selling Fords in Savannah for 102 years, J.C. Lewis Ford has often had opportunities to move into other markets.
But none of them seemed right, Walter Lewis said, until Frank Rozier called to say he was planning to retire and looking for a buyer.
"I've known Frank for many years and I understood how he did business," Lewis said. "His philosophy is very similar to ours and I understood it as an opportunity where we could walk in and basically kind of continue what he's been doing been doing, because Frank did things the right way. It wasn't a situation where we had to come in here and fix something that was broken."
Statesboro's proximity and its appeal as a place to do business, Lewis said, also made the deal attractive.
"I felt like it was an attractive area, that it was a growing area with good folks and it was an opportunity that we just haven't seen before," he said.
J.C. Lewis Ford has been able to keep all but two of Rozier Ford's nearly 50 employees, and those who left chose to do so, said company sources. J.C. Lewis Ford General Manager Michael Offer is now general manager for both locations, spending about a day and a half each week in Statesboro. Jason Strickland, from Savannah, has joined the Statesboro location as a new-car sales manager.
But other key people remain in place. For example, Rod Pye had been with Rozier Ford nine years, worked his way up to general sales manager, and continues in that role with J.C. Lewis Ford Lincoln in Statesboro. Unlike the Savannah dealership, the one here also carries Lincolns.
The new ownership is bringing more new and used vehicles to the Statesboro location, growing its total inventory to about 300 vehicles, Offer said.
"We have increased our inventory probably over 50 percent more than we had before, both new and used," Pye confirmed. "Used cars are still a little struggle to get, but we're getting those in on a daily basis. Inventories are great, and people's attitudes are changing. They know."
As Pye, Offer and Lewis all pointed out, the new ownership also gives the Statesboro location access to the massive Savannah inventory. With J.C. Lewis' greater buying power, the Statesboro lot is getting more of certain high-demand vehicles, according to Pye.
"We do have more of the Explorers, more of the Fusions, the Escapes, the Explorers," he said.
Those are some of Ford's most popular models, after the F-150 pickup, the perennial bestseller.
Carloads of history
Walter Lewis' grandfather, Julius Curtis Lewis Sr., purchased the Ford dealership in Savannah in 1912. That was nine years after Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Co. and four years after he introduced the Model T, which soon outsold all other cars of the time.
In the early days J.C. Lewis Sr. took horses as trade-ins for cars. These included police horses when he sold the Savannah Police Department its first patrol cars.
One historic employee, Sam Steinberg, was 15 years old when he went to work for J.C. Lewis Sr. After the senior Lewis' death, Steinberg managed the dealership during the week while J.C. Lewis Jr. attended the University of Georgia and would come home to attend to business on weekends. Steinberg stayed with the company for 80 years, until he was 95.
"That must be some kind of record," Walter Lewis said.
His father, J.C. Lewis Jr., also owned Ford dealerships in Daytona Beach and Melbourne, Fla., and TV and radio stations in Savannah and other cities. He eventually sold these, but the WJCL TV and radio stations retain his initials. Among other philanthropies, the Lewises endowed the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion at St. Joseph's/Candler Health System in Savannah.
"I couldn't have picked a better group of people to buy the dealership, a better corporate citizen for Statesboro and Bulloch County, and they're just great people," said Frank Rozier. "They're a class act. They'll do a great job here in Statesboro not only for themselves but for Statesboro and for all their customers."
Three months into his retirement, Rozier is still getting used to the idea. But he wanted to sell the place so that he and his wife, Lenora, can do some traveling and spend time with their grandchildren, he said. He is also helping take care of his mother, Julia, who celebrated her 100th birthday in November.
Frank Rozier, now 68, was in auto sales for more than 45 years, and his family's involvement goes back further. His father, F.C. Rozier, along with Sylvester Parrish, bought the Ford dealership known Brooklet Motor Co. in Brooklet in 1957. F.C. Rozier later changed the company name to Rozier Ford. His son joined him in the business in 1967, and they moved Rozier Ford Lincoln Mercury to its U.S. 301 South, Statesboro location in 1983.
S.W. Lewis, Walter Lewis' great uncle, had previously owned both a Ford dealership on North Main Street in Statesboro and Brooklet Motor Co. He opened the Statesboro dealership in 1923, according to "Statesboro: A Century of Progress," a historical collection published in 1969.
Attending last Thursday's grand opening, Ford Motor Co. Regional Sales Manager Tim Witt said the first Ford dealership in Bulloch County was established in 1915 and had "come full circle" by returning to the Lewis family.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.