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The History of Hank Graff Chevrolet Is More Than 100 Years Of Outstanding Service!

The history of Hank Graff Chevrolet goes way back. At Hank Graff Chevrolet Okemos, we’re proud to say we’ve been making friends since 1914! Our store is part of the Hank Graff family of dealerships, which recently celebrated their 100th anniversary of providing great service. Hank Graff Chevrolet Okemos has been around since 2006, but our General Manager, Matt Sloan, has been a part of the Hank Graff family for more than 20 years. We’re excited to uphold the Graff mission statement every day: ‘To have fun while working hard with integrity to exceed our employees’ & customers’ expectations, giving us the best dealership in the land!’ Read on to learn more about the history of the Hank Graff Chevrolet family of dealerships. If you have questions about the services we offer at Hank Graff Chevrolet Okemos, or if you’d like to schedule an appointment, contact us at (517) 349-8300.

1914 - 1926 Otto graff

Otto P. Graff, the Graff Grandfather, Starts An Empire

The Graff name has been well known in Flint, Michigan automobile circles for over a century. In 1914, Otto P. Graff founded the company that bore his name for many years and signed an agreement with the Ford Motor Company to sell 125 cars a year.

You may wonder how Otto Graff became involved in the automotive industry in the first place. He had served as the treasurer of Genesee County from 1910 until 1914, so when Ford removed the previous dealer they asked Mr. Graff, as the treasurer of the county, who he thought would make a good dealer. Prior to this happening, Mr. Graff had often looked out his window at the dealership and thought, "If I had $1 for every car in and out of that Ford dealership it would be a good thing". When the opportunity presented itself, Mr. Graff told Ford that he would make an excellent dealer, and so, with $600 that he and his wife Flora had saved, he launched his enterprise, known at the time as Ford Sales Company. The dealership was located on N. Saginaw Street, just north of the Flint River. Mr. Graff did well in his first year, exceeding his 125-car quota by 25 cars.

First dealership

In the following months, Mr. Graff changed the name of the company from Ford Sales Company to Otto P. Graff Motor Sales, and moved the dealership from its original location to the corner of Kearsley and Harrison Streets, where it remained until 1918. That same year, the Fordson Tractor was added to the Ford line. Henry Ford bought Henry Leland's interests in the Lincoln car, and it too became a part of the Graff line, which eventually included Ford, Ford truck, Lincoln-Mercury and Fordson tractors. The business continued to grow, reaching a new sales peak of 2,400 vehicles in 1924.

Just three years later, in 1927, Ford discontinued the Model T, and as the company converted to the Model A, there were no Fords available for 18 months.

1927 - 1948 Dealers meeting

Great Growth And Great Change For The Graff Family

1927 was a year of expansion. Mr. Graff built a new garage at 914 Harrison Street and a new sales department on Saginaw Street. He also added five sub-dealers, plus a variety of other holdings to his enterprise. With the advent of the Model A, business looked good again. Unfortunately, the disaster of the Great Depression in 1929 caused Otto P. Graff to lose everything he had worked so hard to achieve.

Thanks to Citizen's Bank its president, Mr. Edward Burroughs, Mr. Graff and his business were able to survive, although times were tough. The bank took all the stock in the corporation and held it until 1948, when Mr. Graff finally redeemed the last of it. During this nearly 20-year period, Mr. Graff was paid a weekly salary of $75, with all profits going directly to the bank.

In 1936, Otto Graff’s son, Max H. Graff went to work for his father after graduating from the University of Michigan. He had previously worked for the family business worked during vacations washing, servicing and selling cars, so he was already very familiar with the inner workings of the company. The following year, Max Graff became the manager of the branch at Dort Highway and Davison Road.

During World War II, all manufacturing facilities were dedicated to the war effort, so cars were not produced. As a result, there was plenty of demand for new vehicles after the war. Much to the disappointment of Mr. Graff, Ford decided to take Lincoln and Mercury away at this time, when his company had over 2,000 orders with deposits. Ford allocated only 176 cars and trucks to Graff for the entire year of 1946, which left many customers unhappy. It took another 2 ½ long years to resolve the backlog of orders.

When Otto's second son, Rex, a graduate of Ferris State College, returned from World War II, he was put in charge of the motor rebuilding department. New parts were very scarce so the rebuilding business prospered.

1949 - 1981 Max and otto

The Graff Family Of Businesses Continues To Grow

In 1948, Max became General Manager of the Ford dealership. The Graffs sold the motor rebuilding business in 1949, at which time Rex Graff took over the tractor franchise, constructing a new building at Davison Road and Dort Highway. Rex helped the business thrive, and it was eventually sold in 1969 after Otto's death.

In 1958, Otto P. Graff semi-retired and Max became the dealer-designate. He was also president of the Kiwanis Club that year, chairman of the United Fund in 1961, president of the Flint Golf Club in 1965 and president of the Michigan Auto Dealers Association in 1967.

Rex returned to the dealership in 1970, where he served as General Manager unril he retired in 1975. At that time, Rex became the executive secretary of the Genesee County Dealers Association. Max Graff’s son, Max H. (Hank) Graff, Jr., began working full-time at the dealership as a used car buyer in 1971, after graduating from Michigan State University and teaching school in Flint for two years. He had previously spent summers working at the dealership, doing a variety of jobs.

Hank Graff became General Manager in 1975 and Phil Goldman to assist him in sales management. Two years later, Hank purchased Rex Graff's stock and became the Dealer and a stockholder.

1982 - 1998 3 generations

A World Of Change for the Graff Family

In 1982, two major problems led to a drastic change for the Graff family business. First, General Motors gave all of its employees the option to purchase any General Motors vehicle below dealer cost. At that time, about 50% of the Fords sold by Graff were to the United Auto Workers members employed at General Motors, and Graff was unable to stay competitive. The second issue was that Ford had been unsuccessful at keeping a second successful dealer in Flint, so began operating a factory-owned dealership in Flint.

Max and Hank decided to make a big change, purchasing Uptegraff Chevrolet in Davison. They notified Ford that they would give up their franchise as of August 1, 1982, and Hank Graff signed a Chevrolet franchise agreement on August 2, 1982. At the time of the acquisition, Uptegraff had been in business for 60 years and Graff for 68 years, making them the two oldest family held dealerships in Genesee County.

The new Graff Chevrolet has been very successful. In 1986, they sold 4,703 vehicles, which was the 95th largest sales volume in the United States and second largest among the Chevrolet dealers in Michigan. The dealership has expanded over a period of years to what is now about 58,000 square feet of floor space.

Television advertising contributed to the success of the Davison dealership. Because the television stations their commercials were broadcasted on also covered the Bay City market, the Graffs decided to buy the Wickstrom Chevrolet dealership in Bay City when it became available in 1986. Phil Goldman, who had previously been General Sales Manager at the Davison dealership, was Hank's partner in the Bay City dealership until 1990. Wayne Wedding, who had previously been Sales Manager at the Davison dealership, was Hank's partner and General Manager of the Bay City dealership from 1990 to 2006.

In 1987, Hank discovered that Rich Roehrs, the Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Chrysler dealer in Gladwin wanted to retire, so Hank purchased that store. Tim Bell, the Controller from the Bay City dealership was Hank's partner at this store until 1995. At that time John Kirby, a Sales Manager from the Davison dealership, became Hank's partner and General Manager.

In 1990, Hank and Tim Shannon, a Sales Manager from the Bay City dealership and long-time Graff employee, acquired a Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile dealership in Fostoria, Ohio. Hank eventually purchased Tim's share of the dealership and Jeff Cole became Hank's partner and General Manager in 1996. Several years later, they purchased the Pontiac Cadillac GMC dealership in Fostoria, merging it with the Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile store. The Fostoria store was the unfortunate recipient of one of General Motors' wind down letters during GM's bankruptcy, and they closed their doors in late 2009.

In 1991, Hank and Keith Barnett, the Fixed Operations Manager from the Bay City dealership, purchased the Chevrolet Buick Oldsmobile dealership in Sandusky, Michigan. In 1996 the dealership was relocated to a new facility on the west side of town.

1999 - 2005 Making friends

Continued Growth and Expansion for The Graff Franchise

The Graff Group acquired two dealerships in 1999.

In May 1999, Hank purchased the former Schaffer Volvo and GMC Truck dealership located in Flint and Saginaw. Hank's son-in-law, Keith Whitmore, became General Manager and partner of both the Graff Flint & Saginaw Truck Centers.

In September 1999, Hank acquired the Chevrolet Pontiac Oldsmobile dealership in Durand. Mike Benmark, from the Davison dealership, became the General Manager and partner of the seventh Graff operation. Mike retired in 2012, at which time Chip Watt left the Davison dealership to become the General Manager in Durand.

Hank's son, Chris Graff, became General Manager of the Davison dealership when Benmark left to run the Durand dealership. He has subsequently purchased the dealership stock and is the Dealer Owner of the flagship Graff store in Davison.

2003 was another year of growth, as Hank purchased his eighth operation in Mt. Pleasant, MI and ninth operation in Ottawa, Ohio.

2006 - Present Day! Present day

Hank Graff Chevrolet Has Been Proudly Serving Customers for More Than 100 Years!

Hank purchased M&M Chevrolet in Mt. Pleasant. Wayne Wedding partnered in the store with Hank and took oversight responsibilities for both this store and the Graff Chevrolet in Bay City. Wayne's interest in those stores was repurchased by Hank in 2007, at which time Jim Messick became the General Manager in Mt. Pleasant and Lisa Kusey-Rechsteiner became the General Manager in Bay City.

Jeff Cole took on oversight responsibilities in Ottawa with the purchase of Ottawa Chevrolet. The new Graff Chevrolet Ottawa moved to a newly renovated facility on Perry Rd. in 2004. In 2009, Jeff Cole left the Graff organization. Mike Pauley is now Hank's partner and the General Manager at the newly renamed Ottawa Chevrolet.

In 2006, Hank purchased Pres Kool Chevrolet in Okemos, with Chris Graff as a partner and Matt Sloan as the General Manager and partner. Matt had previously worked his way up through a variety of positions at the Davison store, and is now doing an excellent job of upholding the Graff standards in the greater Lansing area. Chris purchased Hank's stock in the Graff Chevrolet Okemos store in 2011.

In 2012, Hank sold his interests in the Durand, Gladwin, Sandusky, and Mt. Pleasant to stores Chris. Chris also acquired 51% of the stock in the Bay City dealership, after Lisa Rechsteiner purchased a minority interest in 2011. Hank also sold his interest in Graff Truck Centers, Inc. to his son-in-law Keith Whitmore.

Later in 2012, Chris Graff purchased the Shaheen Buick GMC Cadillac dealership in Mt. Pleasant. Jim Messick became the General Manager of this dealership, and his wife, Lynette Wedding, took over as the General Manager at the Graff Chevrolet Mt. Pleasant dealership. In 2013, Chris sold a minority interest in both Mt. Pleasant dealerships to Jim Messick.

100 years

As the Graff family of dealerships continues to grow, we will continue to provide more customers with friendly service! The Graff group of dealerships is proud to be a fourth generation family-owned enterprise, and will continue to grow and prosper in the future by staying true to its philosophy of treating its customers, employees and business associates like family. Thank you for helping our family business prosper for the last 100 years! We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the history of Hank Graff Chevrolet!