Quality and value. That is what it's all about at Jon's Auto in Marquette. It's a business that has been serving the community for 18 years and whose owner, Jon Christianson said gets better every year.
"It's all about making sure the customer is happy," Christianson said.
His knowledge of the car business goes back more than three decades. He first came to Marquette County from Sault Ste. Marie in 1975 where he worked for Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co. In January of 1980 he began working for Bill Fischer Chevrolet in Negaunee as a salesman and then as a manager.
Pictured is Jon’s Auto, located at 1004 W. Washington St., in Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
The new electronic message center lights up West Washington Street. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
From left, Jon Christianson, owner, salesman Mike Guenette and Brian “Kip” Kipling, sales manager stand in front of Jon’s Auto. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
A close up of the Jon’s Auto sign is seen. The business opened in 1996 and has won all seven Reader’s Choice awards. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
After a short stint in 1987 in real estate, Christianson found that he missed the car business. After only nine months, he left real estate and worked as a finance and insurance manager for what was then U.P. Motors and is now Bald Eagle Harley-Davison.
In April of 1988 he was employed as a salesman for Frei-Chevrolet and was promoted to sales manager after only one year. But Christianson decided to carve a new path for himself, and in 1996 on July 28 he opened Jon's Auto on Washington Street.
Unlike many new businesses that take a while to gain momentum, Jon's Auto hit the ground running. The lot began with 7 to 10 cars and now hosts between 55 and 60 vehicles. According to Christianson, the formula is simple: buy really good products, bring them back and make them even better with full inspections and a complete clean-up. A CARFAX report is done for each vehicle he looks at before he considers buying it to ensure his customers only get the highest quality used vehicles.
"Because I'd been in the business so long, I had dealt with all aspects," Christianson said. "There really weren't any surprises and we've continued to grow."
About 9 years ago an additional clean-up bay was added, as well as a mechanical bay. Christianson said the staff, which totals seven, focuses on a "late model" theme, selling cars between 2 and 5 years old.
The vehicles are bought from the Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit areas because, according to Christianson, they are in better condition than vehicles bought in the U.P. He attributes this to the difference in weather. While Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit all have a winter season, it is not as constant and long a season as is often the case in the U.P.
He estimated that the vehicles they buy are near 80 percent less weathered than U.P. cars. But the bottom line, he said, is to offer the best quality product they can to their customers.
"We buy nothing but clean vehicles with popular colors, options and content," Christianson noted. "We try to stay right down the middle of the popularity pike."
When it comes to customer satisfaction, Christianson emphasized that they offer the full package when factoring in the vehicle itself, the popularity, the options and the warranties.
" Most vehicles that are not covered under a factory warranty are given a 12 month, 12 ,000 mile, zero deductible warranty. Christianson said. " This warranty doesn't just cover the powertrain it is far more comprehensive than that."
He explained that while the vehicles they sell are not the cheapest offered, it's important to consider quality.
"People look online and see the same car that's in our lot, but for a cheaper price, but when you factor in how much money you will probably sink in for repairs, you will end up paying more in the end for the cheaper car," Christianson pointed out. "In the long run, we are a much better value."
And it's that value that has brought in more and more customers and won Jon's Auto the Reader's Choice Award in all 8 years it has been given out.
"People are happy with us and in the end we have more enthused customers after the sale," Christianson said.
He said it's his belief that 99.9 percent of people just want fairness. They aren't looking to take advantage of the seller and they themselves don't want to be taken advantage of. "We work hard to never forget what it's like to be on the other side of the desk."
And according to Christianson, between 18,000 and 21,000 cars pass by Jon's Auto on a daily basis, and many of them could be prospective buyers. To attract more potential clients, a new electronic message center was installed in 2013 that Christianson said lights up Washington Street.
While Jon's Auto draws in many, there is one misconception that, if dispelled, could bring in more customers.
"People don't see older cars on our lot, so they assume we don't do trade-ins, but that is false," Christianson explained.
To Jon's Auto, everything has value and they encourage trade-ins.
"We consider trade-ins of all kinds and we're fair about it."
He added that a buyer should never be intimidated to stop in whether to discuss trading a car or to purchase a car. Jon's Auto offers to work with any prospective clients on payments plans. While they do not do in-house financing, arrangements are made through all of the local credit unions and several banks to facilitate financing and to help make payments easier on customers, Christianson said.
Looking forward, Christianson said he expects business to remain steady. He and his staff continue to adhere to their mission statement: Building customers for life through integrity, experience, quality products and customer service.
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