October 15, 2015 by Charlie Nixon
Gus Macke, one of the most widely known and successful auto dealers in west central Iowa, is selling his Ford dealership in Coon Rapids.
The new owner will be Scranton Manufacturing, owned by the McLaughlins, another well known and prosperous family with business ties in Scranton, Lake City and Carroll.
Both Gus Macke and Michael McLaughlin attended last Thursday’s Coon Rapids Rotary Club meeting where they discussed the anticipated change in ownership. An official date for the transaction awaits approval from Ford Motor Company.
Since 1968, Macke has also owned Macke Motors in Lake City where he and his wife, Nancy, make their residence. The Lake City dealership, which is the fourth-largest Chevy dealership in Iowa based on the number of new vehicle sales, is not part of the anticipated sale.
“It’s the weirdest purchase we’ve ever made,” Michael McLaughlin told the group of 30 Rotary Club members. “I took my Corvette into Macke Motors one day for an oil change, and I walked by Gus’s office. He said, ‘McLaughlin, get in here. Close the door.’ He told me this story about his health and said, ‘I want to sell you my Ford dealership,’ and I said, ‘okay.’ He looked at me and I looked at him, and I said, ‘Did we just do this?’” “We didn’t have to pay a broker but the lawyer is $250 an hour, and I guarantee the bill is still going,” Macke laughed.
“We’re really excited about this new opportunity for us,” McLaughlin continued. “It gives us some legs in a different industry -- the automobile industry -- which has always been a childhood dream of mine and my father.”
McLaughlin is the son of John McLaughlin, who co-founded Scranton Manufacturing back in 1971. Today, Scranton Manufacturing is the parent company to a half dozen other manufacturing enterprises scattered in Scranton, Lake City and Carroll.
The elder McLaughlin is a 1955 graduate of Coon Rapids High School. His other son, John, is the Chief Meteorologist for KCCI TV8 in Des Moines.
Michael McLaughlin’s son, Mike, who represents the third generation of McLaughlins, is expected to play a large role in the daily operation of the Ford dealership. He previously worked for Gus Macke in Lake City where he was a sales representative.
Macke said the McLaughlin family’s transition into the auto industry will be seamless.
“I will guarantee you the McLaughlin family will grow this business,” Macke said. “A year from today I would be very surprised if the Ford dealership is not twice as big as it is right now. You will be a better town with the McLaughlins, I guarantee you.”
Macke said Coon Rapids and the area can be very thankful there will continue to be a Ford dealership here, especially in light of a trend towards fewer and fewer dealerships. “What no car manufacturer wants is more dealers,” Macke said.
“They want less dealers. When we came to Coon Rapids in 1998, there were a few more than 4,500 Ford dealers nationwide, and today there are less than 2,500, and it’s forever shrinking,” said Macke.
“Everybody asks me, ‘Why did you sell it?’” Macke continued. “It’s just because I wanted to, that’s why. I’m 67 years old, and I just don’t have the same enthusiasm that I used to have, and it was time to move on.”
When Macke purchased the Ford dealership in Coon Rapids in 1998, the business was on life support.
“When we bought the business from the Garst family, it was located in an old beat-up building downtown, and they didn’t have any sales volume,” recalled Macke, who said he didn’t care because all he was after was the franchise. Later, the Garst family also sold Macke a prime spot of real estate along Highway 141 for the site of a new dealership.
Macke said he was traveling in Minnesota and came across a huge, beautiful Ford dealership. He called Ford’s zone office in Kansas City to find out more information about the building. He learned about being a Ford Trust Mart dealer, which meant that dealers could remodel or build their showrooms with attractive state-of-the-art features.
“Back in those days, if you were a Trust Mart dealer you got cars cheaper than any other Ford dealer. I said, ‘Golly, I have to be one of those’.”
Macke found another Trust Mart dealer near St. Louis, MO, and he traveled there to tour the facility. The Ford dealer there also had a Chevy dealership so Gus and he hit it off. “I got his blueprints, and we hired the Badding Company in Carroll to build us a new building,” Macke continued.
At the time, Macke’s new Ford facility in Coon Rapids was way ahead of the curve in Iowa. There were certain features like the inside car delivery and the covered service area that were totally new innovations. “No other dealer in Iowa had the inside car delivery like Coon Rapids. Now everyone does, but Coon Rapids had the very first one,” Macke said.
Macke said he looks back to those early days in Coon Rapids with a sense of pride and appreciation. “You guys can remember,” he told the Rotarians, “the business just went nuts, and it was exciting. We really enjoyed it, and it was very helpful to our store in Lake City as well. We built up a great new Ford vehicle business down here and also the service business.”
Macke said he really cherishes the opportunities afforded to him in Coon Rapids and said he has always felt very appreciated here. “All I really want to do is say thanks for always making us feel welcome here,” he added.
For his part, McLaughlin said the name of the dealership will not change in the immediate future and that employees of Macke Ford will all be retained.
Courtesy of Charlie Nixon, Coon Rapids Enterprise 10/15/15 and the Jefferson Herald 10/22/15.