May 26 • 05:24 PM

Milnes celebrates decision from GM

Longtime Imlay City dealer to retain his franchise

Bruce Milnes’ goes over dealership paperwork with children, Brooke and Blake, who stood by him during trying times. photo by Randy Jorgensen.

May 12, 2010
IMLAY CITY — There were lots of smiles on the faces of employees at Milnes Chevrolet this week, and the biggest one belonged to longtime owner, Bruce Milnes.

After 10 months of sleepless nights, brainstorming and back-and-forth conversations with General Motors decision-makers, Milnes received word last Friday that the dealership has been reinstated.

The elation Milnes feels now contrasts with the utter frustration he felt last June when he received a "wind-down" letter from G.M., stating the Imlay City dealership would be one of many in the region forced to close its doors.

Not one to give up easily, Milnes, with the support of his adult children, a committed staff and loyal customer base, persevered long enough to be the beneficiary of this week's good news.

Milnes says he never accepted GM's decision to close the 22-year-old dealership and fought long and hard to convince the company it had made a mistake.

"We opened in 1987 and had sold more than 28,000 cars during that time," Milnes says. "We have a beautiful building and many loyal customers. It made no sense that this dealership should be closed down."

Milnes believes problems began with the contingencies placed on the distribution of millions of dollars in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money, authorized by the government in 2008 to save GM and Chrysler, both of which were on the verge of bankruptcy.

"If GM wanted the TARP money it had to close down a lot of the dealerships," Milnes says. "It was done indiscriminately and without enough study or thought."

Milnes says the company opted to scale back dramatically on the number of dealerships, while creating regional hubs for sales and service of GM cars and trucks. That, he says, was a big mistake, though it took some time to convince the corporation's hierarchy.

"We were left with just one GM dealer in Lapeer County, and that was crazy," Milnes says. "Without a presence in the community, people are not going to buy. They don't want to have to drive 40 miles to purchase a car or have it serviced.

"I just never gave up and kept on fighting to save the dealership," says the business owner. "Both of my children (son, Blake and daughter, Brooke) came back to help me work through this thing.

Bruce Milnes shows off new GM vehicle in his showroom on M-53 in Imlay City. photo by Tom Wearing.

"The community has been great," he continues. "Our customers kept coming in to offer their support. Some of them wrote letters and more than 2,000 people signed a petition requesting that GM keep this dealership open."

During the trials and tribulations of the past year, Milnes points out that his employees have remained loyal and steadfast.

"We didn't have to lay anybody off and only one person quit," he says. "Nobody bailed on us. We were on the verge of having to close by October of 2010. Now we're able to start re-ordering new cars again."

Milnes adds that the dealership benefited in recent months from a significant upsurge in service and maintenance calls.

"During this whole thing, our service business has picked up by about a hundred a month," he says. "(Customers) had nowhere else to go for service."

The recent problems experienced by Toyota and a renewed confidence in American cars and trucks is also having a positive effect on sales, Milnes says.

"I think we're finally turning the corner on

American product quality," he says. "The perception among the public now is that American products are better. "I think quality has been up for a long time. I've had people trade in their Chevy trucks with 350,000 miles on them—and they're still running."

Milnes cites the strong sales of GM's Chevrolet Malibu, Traverse, Equinox, Camaro and trucks as evidence the company is regaining its prominence in the auto industry.

"The Malibu is one of the best-selling cars on the market and the Equinox is smokin' hot," he says. "We're elated to be part of the new GM. We're excited about the products and looking forward to helping our customers with their transportation needs."

In light of all of the good news, Milnes is preparing to initiate a "buy local" campaign to encourage sales and thank his customer base.

"We're going to offer maintenance packages and perks for those who buy local," says Milnes. "We want to reward our customers and the community for their support.

"This has been a hard process but logic has prevailed," he says. "We have a saying at our home; to never give in to misfortune. No matter what happens—keep on going."

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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