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Valley Ford sold to Kalispell Toyota owner

by Lynnette Hintze / Daily Inter Lake
| October 1, 2016 6:00 AM

Valley Ford in Evergreen has a new owner and a new name.

Gerrid Gandrud, owner of Kalispell Toyota and Whitefish Ford VW, has purchased the Valley Ford dealership and buildings at 1177 E. Idaho St. and renamed it Kalispell Ford.

It’s the latest in a string of car dealership acquisitions completed by Gandrud in recent years. In early 2015 Gandrud purchased the DePratu Ford Volkswagen dealership in Whitefish and renamed it Whitefish Ford VW. He leases the Ford facility in Whitefish.

Eight years ago Gandrud bought the Toyota dealership — then Glacier Toyota — from DePratu Ford Volkswagen and gave it its present identity, Kalispell Toyota Scion.

Longtime Flathead Valley car dealer Jim Peterson opened Valley Ford in 2011 in the former Kari Dodge facility in Evergreen. He purchased the Ford franchise from the Rygg family, who operated Rygg Ford in Kalispell for years.

“The attraction is to have these two Ford dealerships working as one,” Gandrud said.

He’s exploring the idea of building a bigger facility, around 50,000 square feet, to combine the two Ford dealerships under one roof, but has not yet set a time-frame for that venture.

“Ford said they would be open to it,” Gandrud said.

The larger facility wouldn’t necessarily be located in Kalispell, he said, adding “it depends on where the best opportunities for location would be,” he said.

Peterson, who recently turned 65, wanted to retire from the car business. He had received an unsolicited offer to sell his company to a major public automotive company, but wanted to leave Valley Ford in the best possible position, so he called Gandrud.

“I felt they were the best-suited company for the Flathead Valley,” Peterson said, “and having had a good experience with Ford, I thought it would be a perfect match.

“Gerrid has done such an exceptional job, we felt he would be the perfect dealer,” Peterson said. “We built a beautiful company and have sold it to the right people. They’ll build upon it and make it better.”

Gandrud has a long history in the car business. He started as a “lot boy” in high school, washing cars and helping out at his father’s dealership in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He started selling cars when he was 18.

Gandrud spent 3 1/2 years at a Bozeman dealership before heading back to Wisconsin, where he was the general manager for a five-line dealership in Rhinelander for four years.

The chance to buy the Toyota dealership brought him back to Montana.

Both Whitefish Ford and Kalispell Ford are part of the Rydell Group, a dealer group based in Grand Forks, North Dakota, that has more than 100 franchises in 65 locations.

Rydell Group members, which deal in all makes of vehicles, support each other in building their businesses. When Gandrud invested in Kalispell Toyota, the Rydell Group helped finance the purchase and Gandrud paid off Rydell 18 months ago to give him full ownership of the Toyota dealership.

Gandrud’s arrangement with the Rydell Group in purchasing both local Ford dealerships is the same; he’ll pay off the dealer group in three to four years to become the full owner. It’s a unique way of doing business in the auto industry, he said, because most larger dealer groups don’t offer an opportunity for full ownership.

For now it’s business as usual for Kalispell Ford. Gandrud brought in longtime acquaintance Milt Aus — they worked together in Wisconsin — to be general manager of the dealership and oversee a staff of 44.

“We’ve been pretty lucky. We’ve inherited wonderful staffs” at both Ford dealerships, he said.

Whitefish Ford is approaching its goal of selling 100 to 130 vehicles monthly. Kalispell Ford will have a similar sales goal, Gandrud said.

Kalispell Toyota sells an average of 190 units a month.

The car business is strong nationwide, having climbed upward from the national recession that dropped sales to about 10 million vehicles in the U.S. in 2008; now national sales are more than 17 million annually.

“Economists see us hitting a wonderful plateau,” Gandrud said about the forecast for the next three to five years.

At both local Ford dealerships the F-series trucks continue to be the “bread and butter” for sales, he said.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.