Twins follow in father's business footsteps
Fairbanks - Most Fairbanksans thought Gene Immel was crazy to build a new car and truck dealership downtown during the last part of World War II.
Despite the escalating building costs, Immel pushed on with construction with the belief that car sales would boom after the war was over.
"After the war, construction prices went through the roof because everyone was building," said his son John Immel, who now serves as president of the family-owned Fairbanks business named Gene’s Chrysler.
Well ahead of the competition in November 1945, Immel opened his Studebaker dealership at Second Avenue and Wickersham Street, selling and servicing new vehicles in hot demand in postwar days.
Since then, the family business has outgrown two locations and evolved into a multimillion dollar operation that employs more than 70 people in Fairbanks. Sales revenues have grown steadily in recent years, topping out at a projected $36.2 million for 2001.
"We just try to do more things right today than yesterday," John Immel said.
The long tenure of the family business has definitely helped in that growth, he added, particularly with some of the guiding principles established by patriarch Gene Immel. "Anything that he did that was successful, we do today. It’s the same."
For starters, Gene Immel decided to carry a sizable inventory of parts for the vehicles he sold. By eliminating a long wait for replacement parts, sales increased, his son said.
"Back then, it took about 12 weeks to get parts in, because they came up on a steamship. It was a real slow process," John Immel said. "He knew that if he stocked the parts, he could sell the vehicles."
Gene Immel also maintained a visible presence at his dealership, a tradition carried on by his twin sons John and Jim Immel, who now run Gene’s Chrysler. Jim Immel serves as secretary/treasurer for the business.
"Customers always knew that Gene was around somewhere. So when we go on vacation, we don’t leave at same time. One of us is always here," John Immel said. "We also try to meet every customer who buys a car, to thank them. We think that’s important."
In the early days, Gene Immel carried a number of different lines in addition to Studebaker. At various times, he carried the Volkswagen and Mercedes car lines on the downtown corner lot, in addition to selling Arrowcraft boats with Mercury outboard engines.