Fowler family driven to succeed in automotive sales

Taking on many forms during the past 95 years, one thing has remained consistent among a string of automobile dealerships that date back to 1922:The Fowler family.

Siblings Rob Fowler and Rhonda Ritchie currently head Fowler Hyundai as the fourth generation of their family to contribute to the thread of dealerships.

“It’s something I love,” Fowler said, adding that he couldn’t see himself doing anything else.

Growing up, Ritchie said she always wanted to be an accountant.

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Taking on many forms during the past 95 years, one thing has remained consistent among a string of automobile dealerships that date back to 1922:The Fowler family.

Siblings Rob Fowler and Rhonda Ritchie currently head Fowler Hyundai as the fourth generation of their family to contribute to the thread of dealerships.

“It’s something I love,” Fowler said, adding that he couldn’t see himself doing anything else.

Growing up, Ritchie said she always wanted to be an accountant.

Although she left Brandon for approximately 10 years to accompany her husband during his hockey career, she returned to the Wheat City in 2004 to reconnect with her family’s business roots.

She is now Fowler Hyundai’s controller.

“This position that I’m in is exactly what I wanted to be doing,” Ritchie said. “I have a real passion for this business.”

While the expansive Fowler Hyundai and its accompanying Fowler Auto Body & Glass now employs 32 people, its early beginnings were a bit more humble.

Back in 1922, Harry “H.O.” Fowler —Rob and Rhonda’s great-grandfather —owned a general store in Maryfield, Sask.

Specializing in groceries, dry goods, boots and shoes, he decided to take on a few automobiles, picking them up in Winnipeg and parking them in front of his shop.

Little did he know then, but he’d set an example that at least three more generations of his family would follow.

Giving clients vehicles on credit, by the time the “Dirty ’30s” hit, Harry found himself in some financial difficulty, and by 1936 had to shut down the general store.

In 1945, he landed on his feet in Virden, where he opened a car dealership named Fowler & Sons Ltd., which specialized in Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles.

The “Sons” included Orville, Colin and Glen, who isRob and Rhonda’s grandfather.

Harry died a few years later, with Glen keeping the business running until selling it in 1962.

Glen then got into the clothing industry for a short period of time, but later realigned himself with automobiles, where his passions were, Rob said.

He built Brandon Chrysler Dodge from the ground up, operating it from 1966 until selling it in 1975.

Glen’s son, Brian —Rob and Rhonda’s father — worked at Brandon Chrysler Dodge during this time, and gained the experience he needed to open Fowler Chev Olds in Virden in 1975, operating the business until 1981.

In 1982, Glen agreed to run Brandon Automobiles alongside Brian in downtown Brandon, later buying it and renaming it Fowler Pontiac Buick GMC.

In 1986, it was relocated to its present-day property on Victoria Avenue, after which time Glen retired and Brian took over.

By 1995, the fourth generation of the Fowler family picked up the torch when Rob, at the age of 21, began working as a service writer.

He worked his way through various positions with the company during the subsequent years, making general manager by 2009.

It was a difficult year for the dealership.

General Motors was on the verge of bankruptcy, pushing the company into giving pink slips to 220 dealers in Canada, including Fowler Pontiac Buick GMC.

“That was a shocking experience at the time,” Rob said, adding that until then all they knew was GM.

Within a few days of receiving notice, they were on the hunt for a new brand.

Rob joined his father in taking a trip into Winnipeg to visit some of their options, landing squarely on Hyundai.

Their innovative lineup with a clear eye on the future, including electric options, was a big selling point, Rob said.

While these were some of the bigger changes the family business has undertaken, Rob said the day-to-day has also changed drastically, with the internet forever changing how customers interact with salespeople.

“There’s one thing that I’ll never forget,” Rob said. “My grandpa made it very clear when I was young, that when you go to work you have to be prepared for anything.”

This has certainly been the case of late, he said, adding that the last three to five years has seen a greater change take place within the industry than the prior 10-12 years combined.

While it’s currently unclear as to what the next generation of the Fowler family might have planned for their futures, Rob said it’s entirely possible that a fifth generation will pick up the torch.

He has two boys, Carson, 7, and Aiden, 4, while Ritchie has Quinn, 17, and Nolan, 15.

Whatever they decide, Rob said the Fowler name has allowed the company to retain a continuity with their clients during its 95 years, which their long-term staff has also assisted with.

Much has changed during this time, Rob said, adding that he’ll be curious to see what else changes during the next five years, leading up to their centennial.

» tclarke@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB

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