Swede Ehrlich

Ehrlichs keep 56-year-old biz thriving 2002 Bravo! Entrepreneur — Greeley

Scott Ehrlich

Ehrlich Motors a Greeley linchpin in biz, community

GREELEY — When the Boys and Girls Clubs of Weld County needed to upgrade their transportation fleet of high-maintenance vans, Scott Ehrlich was the one who figured out how to use tax incentives to get the new vehicles.

“Through his own company and through other dealerships in the area, Scott helped us get new vans,´ said Ed Fickes, executive director of the organization. “He also convinced Weld County Garage/Truck City to donate a box van so that we can move our materials in and out of a school at our Johnstown/Milliken unit. The club is growing and Scott is a good problem-solver.”

Repair-shop roots

Scott Ehrlich comes honestly by his problem-solving ability, which has been a hallmark of the Ehrlichs’ 56-year-old family business. It all started with Scott’s dad, Ruben “Swede” Ehrlich, who opened Swede’s Repair Shop in 1946.

“Swede grew up on the farm and just had a knack for repairing cars and trucks and tractors,´ said Steve White, business development director for Ehrlich Motors. “He established Ehrlich Motors Inc., in 1955 and started selling American cars.”

About eight years after starting his business, Swede made a bold business decision at a time when American drivers maintained brand loyalty with Mac and PC fervor. In 1963, he took on the first Datsun dealership in the area.

“There were very few dealerships anywhere in the country that sold Japanese automobiles,´ said White. “Our dealer code is 172. That’s how early we were.”

Interest among American car dealers to sell Japanese cars was slight for many reasons, not the least of which was that the cars were small and light (never mind that they got great gas mileage). In the early ?60s, little cars were not a very popular item, particularly in the wide-open agricultural spaces of Weld County. However, Swede Ehrlich had seen the future, and on reflection has only one regret associated with that early plunge into a new market: He did not corner it.

“Toyota was also sitting on my doorstep,´ said Ehrlich, “but at the time I thought that one Japanese product was enough. We added a Toyota dealership in 1999.”

Swede Ehrlich’s early entry into the small-car market proved to be fortuitous. In the 1970s, gas prices soared and Ehrlich Nissan was the only small-car dealership in the region. When the booming 1980s renewed the American driver’s love affair with big American cars, Ehrlich solved that problem by adding a Lincoln/Mercury dealership to his mix. At that time he was also making another addition to his business: his son Scott, who took over the business in 1987.

Torch passed to son

“I watched Scott from the time he was a sophomore in high school and just beginning to work at the dealership,´ said White. “Swede hired me in 1978 from Pueblo, and I lived with his family until I could get a house built. Scott has matured and learned and is now one of the premier car dealers in the state of Colorado.”

Swede Ehrlich describes his son as a “busy boy,” but busy hardly begins to describe a life that not only manages to keep a business growing, acquire and develop real estate, boost the University of Northern Colorado and contribute actively and significantly to civic projects.

“Scott has done wonders in fund raising for the Boys and Girls Club,´ said Fickes. “Under his leadership, we raised $2.8 million to build and endow a new building. He has been one of the driving forces in our growth to three units, and as the new president of the board, he will continue to bring his business knowledge to this organization.”

Meanwhile, back in the car business, Scott Ehrlich only recently completed major moves for not one, but two of the company’s dealerships.

“We acquired Volkswagen and Subaru from another dealership and needed to move them to a new location,´ said White.

The new franchise buildings, totaling about 18,000 square feet, represent a $2 million investment for the company. However, the moves were necessary to give the dealerships an appropriately modern, upscale setting. And, as Ehrlich pointed out, there were people who were not even aware there was a VW dealership in town because of its location. The new building, next to Ehrlich Toyota in west Greeley, will give the dealership’s profile a boost.

Responding to requirements of manufacturers is only part of the swiftly changing nature of a business that is moving wholeheartedly into a high-tech environment.

“The technology is becoming increasingly complex,´ said White. “Everything is run by the car’s computer. These days it’s ‘start ’em and steer.’ Now we have GPS systems and hands-free phones.”

The techniques the Ehrlichs have adopted to market high-tech vehicles run from the high-touch atmosphere of the dealerships, to the high-tech virtual world of online shopping.

Customer service a priority

“I suppose we have been successful because we offer good service,´ said Scott Ehrlich. “We have made tremendous investments in our facilities as a means to serve our customers and employees.”

In response to a growing consumer impulse to check out what’s new and cool in the car market, Ehrlich has developed a Web site (www.ehrlichmotors.com) that responds to a trend of potential buyers’ checking out cars online but buying on site.

“We originally thought we could sell cars online,´ said Scott Ehrlich. “We discovered that the Web site made a better informational tool. We would rather sell a car face to face. We don’t want to take the personal part out of it.”

Competition is at the heart of any business, but the fact that Scott Ehrlich can call on his competitors when it comes to civic projects suggests that the Ehrlichs take their role in the community as seriously as they take their business. That fundamental connection energizes Scott Ehrlich’s civic contributions and has permitted Swede Ehrlich a seamless transition into retirement.

“He likes being in his 70s because in Colorado he can ski free,´ said White. “What people might not know is that he is still one of the best dancers around. He used to travel all over the place for ?Dutch Hops,’ like polkas.”

And just in case anyone wonders how it is that the master of the Dutch Hop came to be called “Swede,” Swede himself offers the only answer he knows.

“Somebody put it on me when I was a little kid, maybe six years old,” he said. “I was blond then. It just stuck.”