Dan Wilder Jr., left, has taken the reins as general manager of Wilder Auto Group. Dan Wilder Sr., right, said his son always wanted to be in the car business but he wanted him to learn some good work ethics first. Wilder Jr. worked 15 years, six days a week, in the parts department. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash
Time Magazine has honored Dan Wilder Sr., president and principal of Wilder Automotive Group, for his service to the North Olympic Peninsula.
The longtime auto dealer with multiple agencies at 97 Deer Park Road, Port Angeles, was named one of three regional finalists for the 2010 Time Magazine Dealer of the Year.
"I was surprised to learn about this especially because I'm in an outlying area and not on the I-5 corridor," Wilder said.
He was one of 45 candidates from a pool of more than 17,000 dealerships in the country.
Last year, Wilder won Washington State's Auto Dealer of the year award.
"Even though I have these awards, it's not me. We have a lot of great people here," Wilder said about his business.
He was honored Feb. 13 at the 93rd National Automobile Dealers Association's convention and expo in Orlando.
Wilder owns two car dealerships, Wilder Auto Center and Wilder Toyota-Scion, plus Wilder RV, 1536 E. Front St., Port Angeles.
He bought Olympic Volkswagen in 1977 and expanded to include five other manufacturers - Toyota in 1981, Honda in 1986, Jeep and Nissan in 1987, and Scion in 2002.
"In this small community, it's hard to make a living off of one maker," Wilder said.
"The diversity helps us, and people all want personalized and practical cars."
Wilder began his career in Sacramento, Calif., as a Volkswagen parts deliverer in 1967 before quickly working his way up as a salesman.
His general manager asked him to try selling cars for 90 days and in his first month he sold 20 cars. He stayed in sales.
Volkswagens have a special place in his heart, he said.
Education remains the most important endeavor for Wilder.
He dropped out of high school as a sophomore to support his wife, Sally, who was pregnant. They have been married 44 years.
While washing dishes at a restaurant, Wilder realized that giving up on education was a mistake so he began night school and eventually finished his schooling.
"We made sacrifices to get me back to school," Wilder said.
"Anything that's worth having is worth working for."
He went on to graduate from Western Baptist College, now Corban College, in Salem, Ore.
Since buying the dealership, he's worked with his former college and other educational programs in varying roles and sponsorships.
His service to education led former governors to appoint him to the board of directors of Peninsula College at two separate times.
Wilder supports his full-time employees' children's education by paying for two years of tuition at Peninsula College.
"I'm a strong advocate of education. If you really want to be successful and get ahead, then there's nothing more important than a good education," Wilder said.
Wilder's service and donations span his 33 years on the peninsula.
Notable is his 21 years giving a car or truck as top prize at Olympic Medical Foundation's Great Olympic Peninsula Duck Derby.
"I believe anything I can do to help the hospital grow is essential," Wilder said.
"(The foundation) buys some great equipment for the hospital, so we try to find a car or truck everyone would love to have."
He has been on the board of directors for the foundation, Olympic Kidney Foundation, Young Life and United Way.
Wilder Auto employees follow the Golden Rule, Wilder said.
"Honesty and integrity are the cornerstones of our business," he said.
Wilder and his wife found their Christian faith at age 17, and he served as a part-time youth pastor for middle and high school children afterward.
"My belief and faith has everything to do with how I run my business," Wilder said.
He made the decision early on not to brand Wilder Auto as a Christian organization because if the company made a mistake, then God would get the blame.
"Since I began my career in 1967, my one goal has been to improve our image and show customers who have a preconceived ideas about us that most dealers are men and women of integrity who care deeply about their customers and communities," he said.
Wilder feels his family has been blessed on the peninsula.
His son Dan Wilder Jr., general manager, and daughter Tami Rose, customer and employee relations, remain active in the company and his three grandchildren were raised here.
"Our core belief as a family is that it's better to give than to receive," Wilder Sr. said.
"We believe that giving to our community is not optional but is a way to give back."
For about 85 employees, Wilder said he runs the company similarly to a family, despite its large size.
"You have to go to the core. Some run their business by intimidation of employees and fear of losing their jobs, and some - like us - want a family like atmosphere," he said.
That attitude is what customers seem to respect and they have a similar devotion to the company.
"I have some customers who have bought 20 cars from me over the years," he said.
"If they aren't coming back, then we're dead."
Stressing the importance of customers, Wilder gave cards with "Not One" written on them to managers.
"We can't afford to lose any one customer," Wilder said.
"They can trust we'll take care of them for life. That's our goal."
Wilder, 61, expects to be about 90-percent retired in five years. He and his wife plan to travel and become more involved in local ministries.
His current role is advising his son and coaching the management team.
The future of Wilder Auto Group lies in a shifting market and technological world.
"We're always looking at how we can improve and update," Wilder said.
Currently managers are planning to build an express service center for oil changes, and Wilder won't rule out adding more automobile manufacturers to his lot.
The Deer Park sales lot is open 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays; closed Sundays. The service and parts departments are open 8 a.m.-
5 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-
5 p.m. Saturdays; and closed Sundays.
Wilder Auto can be reached at 800-927-9395, 452-3888 or through www.wilderauto.com.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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