From the ground up
Tri-State Ford Lincoln President Todd Hill gazes across the future site of his new dealership facility, scheduled for completion in about a year. Hill learned how to operate heavy equipment while growing up on a farm near Weston, and he and other family members performed much of the dirt work for the planned 27,000-square-foot building themselves.
Posted: Monday, January 5, 2015 6:15 am
It’s been an open secret for a long time that something big is going on at Tri-State Ford Lincoln on South Main Street in Maryville.
Land has been bought and subdivided, buildings have been torn down, new frame construction is going up and acres of dirt have been moved, flattened and shaped — all activities associated with a major construction project.
So what gives? In a nutshell, Tri-State President Todd Hill has decided the time has come to grow, and grow in a big way.
The local business community has been abuzz for months about all the activity, and the broad outlines of the project are more or less public knowledge.
Hill has purchased about seven acres of land immediately south of his existing dealership, a tract that includes Kizer Collision & Heavy Recovery and a former barbecue restaurant that was torn down earlier this year.
Kizer is building a new facility a few hundreds yards to the southeast on South Hills Drive, and Tri-State plans to erect a new state-of-the art dealership just south of its current location. Hill said he expects construction to take about a year.
Further developments with regard to the Tri-State expansion are expected to become public early in the new year, but Hill told the Daily Forum last week about how the project has progressed to this point.
Essentially, in about a year, Hill plans to open the doors to what will be the most advanced, high-tech automotive sales and service complex the five-county area and most of southwest Iowa have ever seen.
The current dealership building will remain and is being expanded. But the centerpiece will be a new 27,000 square-foot structure that is to include Maryville’s first Ford showroom in decades.
The building will also comprise sales offices and a large-scale service operation embracing 15 service bays, five of which will make up the Ford Quick Lane.
Ford Quick Lane — a registered brand — is a dealership version of a while-you-wait scheduled maintenance shop. Hill said the facility will service all makes and models of cars and trucks and specialize in such tasks as brake service, battery replacement, new tires and oil changes.
The shop will offer extended hours with no appointments necessary.
“Customers will drive in and be immediately served,” Hill said.
Of course all of this is just what customers will see. The new dealership is also to include a number of infrastructure innovations such as LED lighting and roof-mounted solar panels. Hill is paying considerable attention to aesthetics as well.
As recommended in the city of Maryville’s comprehensive plan, Hill said he wants to do as much as possible to improve the South Main strip, a part of town where pleasing visual appearances haven’t always been a top priority.
The dealership will be set back from the street, he said, leaving space for landscaping. In addition, about four acres at the rear of the property will remain as a row crop cultivation space available to the Northwest Technical School chapter of FFA, which has farmed there for the past few years.
The FFA connection is significant. Like any businessman, Hill’s motivation for growing Tri-State is driven by the opportunity to make a profit. But as a farm kid who grew up in rural Weston, Hill said he is also very aware of the impact the Tri-State expansion will have on a small town like Maryville.
With 49 full-time employees — a number almost certain to grow — Hill said he is committed to hiring folks who want to build their lives here and whose children attend local schools.
“We want to have that hometown feel,” he said. “Being a farm boy myself, that’s how I like to treat people.”
Hill said he has already taken on several new employees in order to train them for broader responsibilities when the new dealership opens. Beyond that, two Northwest Missouri State University interns, originally hired to boost Tri-State’s online sales operation, have accepted full-time positions.
That commitment to youth and community has set the stage for the kind of success that has made the Tri-State expansion seemingly inevitable.
“We’ve outgrown our facility, and to better accommodate the customers’ needs we need more capacity,” said Hill, adding that Ford — meaning mostly Tri-State — has a 30 percent market share across the five-county area and southwestern Iowa.
It’s a feel-good story about a businessman who arrived in town in 2008 with a lot of can-do spirit and the skills to go along with it.
Not only is Hill building a new dealership, he literally laid down its foundation. Schooled on the farm, Hill and two of his three brothers, along with a nephew, operated the bulldozers used to prepare the ground on which the building will stand.
So he’s a hands-on kind of guy, but one who is also firmly rooted in the 21st century. The blueprint calls for a massive Internet presence as well as multiple streams of customer service.
The new Tri-State dealership won’t be so much a building as a system. Hill has already acquired what used to be a filling station further south on Main Street. The building has been transformed into Tri-State Recon, an automotive “reconditioning” shop that spiffs up used cars for resale while offering such services as car rentals, window tinting, pin striping, detailing, headlight restoration and accessory installation.
Another component of the expansion, which Hill considers essential, is online marketing and sales, a category that accounts for 35 percent of Tri-State’s business volume.
“Our goal is to serve the greater community,” Hill said, “and to supplement that with sales over the Internet. That’s what the Internet does for a rural community. It levels the playing field. If you keep your overhead low you can beat the big-city dealers.”
Though he has the blessing of Ford Motor Co., and the numbers to back up a dealership expansion, Hill said that what really convinced him to pull the trigger was his belief in the future of Maryville and the surrounding region.
“I just see a lot of small towns that used to have dealerships and that don’t have dealerships anymore,” he said. “We want to see Maryville grow, and we believe Maryville will grow. People in our community deserve the same amenities that the big cities offer — including our young people, who we want to stay here and be successful here and yet enjoy that high quality of (small town) life.”