An auto dealership generally plays a prominent role in just about any small community. That was certainly the case for Tiffany family members who recently sold their historic Ford dealership after 109 years in business.
“Well, obviously, this is a huge change for my family and for the community,” said Bob Tiffany, the fourth-generation owner who closed the sale to the Greenwood family, another prominent local auto dealer, in late August.
Tiffany sat down to talk about the sale and the dealership’s rich history. Tiffany Ford was the oldest Ford dealer in California and the fifth oldest in the nation.
Bob Tiffany’s great-grandfather Edwin Tiffany moved his family to California from the Midwest in 1905 and founded the business in 1910. At the time, he went to buy a Model T from the original Ford dealer Billy Hughson in the days when most everybody was using a horse and buggy as transportation.
Edwin Tiffany had been in real estate but set up an arrangement with Hughson to sell some Model Ts. One thing led to another, and he ultimately opened a full-blown dealership.
“It’s hard to imagine this day and age,” Bob Tiffany said. “My granddad would go with his father. When they would deliver a Model T, they would often deliver it to a person’s home ranch. They would spend the night and teach the family how to drive because no one knew how to drive.”
Tiffany mentioned how it was common for people in those days to trade in their horses for Model Ts. Such context highlights the extent of the dealership’s long history and how much the world and auto business have changed since those early days of the business. Perhaps what’s more astonishing about the 109-year run is the dealership’s ability to survive so many ups and downs in the industry and economy.
“Not to mention, you need to have each generation come along and want to take it over,” Tiffany said. “So it’s obviously bittersweet for me and my family after all these years. But it really comes down to, there’s not a fifth generation that wants to step in, and so here we are.”
Edwin Tiffany ran the business from 1910-1936. From the 1920s to the late 1960s, his sons Gile and Preston played a central role and then took over as owners. Gile’s son Charlie – Bob Tiffany’s father – was involved from 1956 until his death in 2000.
Bob Tiffany didn’t always want to run the family business. He graduated from high school in 1972, then went away to business school and worked in the corporate world. He came back in 1987 to work for Tiffany Ford.
“My dad was still involved in the business,” he said. “Pretty quickly, I became the general manager and started running the business.”
Tiffany said his dad never really pushed his children into the car business and wanted them to choose their own paths.
“I never really planned to necessarily become the fourth-generation Ford dealer in the Tiffany Motor Company,” he said. “But you know, it happened.”
It wasn’t just ownership that has changed hands within the Tiffany family over 109 years. The business has had a handful of different locations as well, such as its former spot at San Benito and South streets where Running Rooster currently operates.
While there’s plenty of local history involved with Tiffany Ford, the family has experienced so many changes to the auto industry and the country as a whole.
Tiffany noted how Henry Ford was famous for mass producing the automobile and making it affordable to the middle class. The first Model Ts were over $1,000, but that price dropped to $300-$350 a few years after the first versions came out.
“That stayed at that price all the way through all those years until the 1920s when they went to a Model A,” Tiffany said.
He said back then, there was typically one model that would come out each year for manufacturers.
“It was a big deal,” he said. “I remember my dad, he would cover the showroom windows with brown paper or something so people couldn’t see. When it was unveiled, it was a big deal.”
Another major change has been the move for consumers toward trucks. They became more popular in the 1960s, but largely as work vehicles. Nowadays, buyers prefer trucks and SUVs over cars. He said about 70 percent of vehicles sold are now trucks or SUVs, while it was more of a 50-50 split during a period of high gas prices several years back. Fuel prices don’t make as much of a difference anymore due to efficiency in the non-cars along with hybrids and electric vehicles, he mentioned.
He said the way people show now is much different, too, and it’s made pricing a lot more competitive. Consumers tend to do research on the Internet before coming in to finalize a deal.
“If your pricing is not competitive, you’re not going to have a chance to sell,” he said.
Still, Tiffany and Ford embrace the company’s history. Tiffany has hosted a regional Endurance Run in Hollister the past three years. Those events have involved vintage speedsters displayed on Fifth Street and organized rides throughout the countryside of San Benito County. The original endurance runs in Ford’s early days were meant to show consumes how far the cars could drive as a way to prove their credibility, Tiffany said.
Hosting the car events has been a small part of the Tiffany family’s community involvement over the past century-plus.
“For me, and I think this is true for my brother (Bill) and my entire family,” Tiffany said. “It certainly was true for my dad and my mother. We’ve always been – the Tiffany family’s always been very much tied to the community and tried to be involved in different areas.”
He mentioned his father was a local school board and hospital board member for more than two decades. Bob Tiffany has been active in organizations like the business council, Southside School District Board and Community Foundation of San Benito County.
“Tiffany Motor Company – it was important to my family,” he said. “It was important to us, but it wasn’t our sole focus.”
That makes it all the more impressive that Tiffany Ford lasted for so long. Through economic recessions, the Great Depression, changes in the industry, and local economic downturns like the building moratorium that started in 2002, Tiffany Ford remained a mainstay in Hollister.
While Tiffany Ford will always remain part of Hollister’s history, it’s the community involvement that will live on for the family. The family intends to stay active in local organizations. Bob and wife Kathy will also have flexibility in their schedule, and travels, which they haven’t had for the past 30 years.
“It’s hard to get away from car business for any length of time,” he said.
Most of the employees – many longtime, devoted workers – will stay on with Greenwood Ford. He said the business has had hundreds, if not thousands, of employees through the years. Most of them tend to stay on much longer than typical tenures at auto dealerships, he said.
“Without good employees, you’re not going to last a year or two, let alone 109 years,” he said.
It’s been quite an adjustment for Tiffany and his family to move toward this sale.
“I don’t know if it’s really quite hit me yet, emotionally, in terms of the connection,” he said. “Like I’ve said to other people, it’s been a hell of a run.”
Look back for a story on the Greenwood family’s perspective on the sale.
Photo Caption: Three generations of Tiffanys are shown at the opening of a new building in October 1935 where Running Rooster currently operates. Preston, Gile, Charlie, Gile Jr. and Edwin are shown.