Berger Chevrolet was founded in 1925 by William H. Berger. Mr. Berger was a resident of Jenison, Michigan and was a farmer by trade. Foreseeing a bleak future for the farmers in the 20's, he took employment at a local Chevrolet dealership in downtown Grand Rapids. He was an excellent salesman, and was soon promoted to the position of sales manager. Impressed by the opportunities and potential of the automobile business, he purchased a Chevrolet franchise and located his dealership near the corner of Wealthy and Diamond streets in southeast Grand Rapids. Business started out very slowly and there were many weeks when he went without a paycheck so he could pay the other employees.
1930 - 1940
In 1930 the country was in the depths of the "Great Depression" and business was very, very bad. However, William H. Berger had a wife and three sons to provide for, and realized that even if business was bad, he needed a more efficient building. In 1931, Berger Chevrolet moved lock, stock and barrel to 1451 Lake Drive S.E. across from what is now the location of the U.S. Post Office. This was a far bigger building and had a four car showroom and 15 service stalls. He managed to keep the business going and actually had a couple of decent years in the mid "30's". In the late 1930's war was on the horizon. Everyone who could afford a car bought one, because if war broke out, the country's production of automobiles would be converted to tanks, aircraft and munitions.
1940 - 1950
World War II was in full swing by 1942 and all automobile production halted. William H. now had a son, Dale, in the business and with no new cars to sell, had to come up with something to sell to generate income and keep the store going. They sold stoves, refrigerators, washers and dryers. The store also sold two-wheel trailers, but only to get the two tires from the trailers. There were no tires available to the general public. Consequently, if your car wore out the tires, you had to park it until the war was over. As a measure to get the public to conserve tires, there was a national speed limit of 35 mph! That was in 1945, but there was no auto production until 1946. Every dealership in the U.S.A. had a huge waiting list for new cars. Talk about a seller's market! In 1949 Chevrolet came out with all new designs for their passenger car line, and business was very good.
1950 - 1960
Business boomed in 1950, but it was short lived, because the Korean War had started. Production was split between autos and war machinery. The conflict finally ended in 1952, and business got better almost immediately. In 1955 Chevrolet stunned the automobile world with an all-new sleek design and the "265" V-8 engine. The car was one of the best sellers in modern history and prompted Berger Chevrolet to open a second used car lot at 1564 S. Division Avenue. It was the busiest street in Grand Rapids. Dale Berger Jr. entered the business and went to General Motors Institute to further his knowledge of the retail automobile business. A recession hit the industry in 1958 despite the introduction of the first Impala. Dale Jr. graduated from college in 1958 and started his career in the parts department where he worked for five years as a parts counterman. Chevrolet came out with another all new design in 1959 and as the country came out of the recession, business slowly got better and 1959 was a pretty good year. Berger Chevrolet had a total of thirty-three employees at the end of the decade, most of whom were veterans of the two wars.
1960 - 1970
The "60's" started out with a boom until September of 1960 when General Motors suffered an 11-week strike, and the dealership totally ran out of new car inventory. As people became more mobile and moved to the suburbs, there was a new phenomenon. More and more families became three car families, and this prompted Berger Chevrolet to acquire more room. In 1965, it was determined that even if Berger Chevrolet purchased the entire block on which the facilities were located, there still would not be enough space. William H. Berger, at the age of 79, purchased 5.2 acres of land on 28th Street and construction was started on an all new state of the art facility. Construction was completed in January 1966. Two months later, Berger Chevrolet became the largest volume Chevrolet dealer in Western Michigan. In a period of three months, employment went from 40 to 75 employees! In 1968 Berger opened one of the first high-performance parts departments in the country. The dealership was featured in numerous high-performance and car enthusiast magazines, and the high-performance department would receive up to 50 pieces of mail daily, for catalogues and parts. The new department would ship parts worldwide, including to Africa, Switzerland, Australia as well as every state in the U.S.A. Several race cars carried the "Berger" logo, and Chevrolet even made a training film on the high-performance parts department.
1970 - 1980
In 1970, Berger Chevrolet was awarded the largest new car order in its long history. The City of Grand Rapids ordered 293 new cars, some of which are still being used by various city departments. In October of 1972, William H. Berger passed away at the age of 86. In 1973 the service department and body shop were expanded, and an additional free-standing building was built to house Dale Berger Sr.'s collection of cars. The oil embargo and emission controls brought about the demise of the high-performance cars and our high-performance parts department. However, we did sell 474 Vegas that year! In 1977, Dale Berger Sr. retired financially from the business. Because business continued to grow and we were running out of space, an additional 3.2 acres were purchased to the west of the main facility for an all-new used car lot. Construction began in 1979.
1980 - 1990
The decade of the 80's began with 21% floor plan interest rates and very little business. Gas prices soared, and everybody wanted to trade in their four-wheel drive vehicles for something more economical. At one time in 1981, we had 35 used one-and two-year old Blazers and no buyers! No wonder Dale Berger Jr. had a heart attack that year! Matthew Berger became general manager when Dale Jr.'s health problems surfaced. Matt instituted many changes immediately and even hired a horse to do television commercials. Dale Sr.'s friends couldn't wait to razz him about seeing his name on the rear of a horse!!! Wanting to capitalize on the growing used car market, Berger Chevrolet focused more strongly on this segment, increasing inventory and salespeople during this decade. In 1985, the new car business boomed, and the term Customer Satisfaction Index was initiated. This term really emphasized the fixed operations and how important they were to the average customer. Interest rates of 2.9% were offered by manufacturers, and customers flocked to our showroom. Some actually fought over new cars. We set a new one-day record of 69 new car sales! In 1988, Berger Chevrolet was chosen as a pilot for a major facilities remodeling and upgrade. We spent a great deal of time and money, but it was well worth it!
1990 - 2000
In 1990, we doubled the size of the used car building and added several salespeople to the used car staff. Dale Berger, Sr. passed away on Labor Day at the age of 76. We became the Number One volume new and used vehicle dealer in West Michigan. In 1991, Berger Chevrolet was ranked Number 11 in Chevrolet new car sales volume in the U.S.A. A remarkable record considering there were 4400 Chevrolet dealers nationwide at the time! A complete upgrading of the body shop facility included new state of the art paint booths, air compressors, air make-up heating system and frame machine. I 1993, we built a new office on the west side of the building and completely computerized the estimating procedure. Due to our steady growth in all departments, we decided to purchase more property behind the used car facility which gave us an additional three acres plus, finally, an exit on Breton Road! In 1994, Berger Chevrolet broke all sales records and reached a reached a record number of employees. By the end of the century Berger Chevrolet had 150 employees and an annual payroll in excess of $5,000,000. Our gross sales were $100,000,000! Not only are we one of the oldest Chevrolet dealerships in the country but also one of the largest in sales volume. With a bright future, great new products, great employees and a dedication to total customer satisfaction and enthusiasm we were ready to launch into the next century.
2000 - Present
In 1999 we removed the front portion of the building including all of the showroom and sales area. The office staff was housed in two trailers on the lot. All the sales personnel worked from the used car building. This project was completed in 2000. In October of 2007 we began a total remodel of the sales showroom which was completed in March of 2008. Personnel was again housed in trailers, although not to the extent of the 1999 remodel.
In 2000 General Motors announced the Camaro would be discontinued in model year 2002. Having had a rich history with this popular vehicle, we put together a plan to build 100 Special edition Camaros. 100 Berger SS Camaros were built during the three final model years. Many of these vehicles became part of collections.
The Berger Collision Department has achieved I-Car Gold Certification and the Collision repair technicians are all ASE Certified. In October of 2009 the department completely replaced the paint booths to be compatible water-based painting systems. This greatly reduces the chemical exhaust of traditional vehicle paints and helps contribute to our green efforts.
The Parts Warehouse broke ground in November 2008 and was completed in May 2009. We were leasing four offsite facilities to house our growing Collision Parts inventory, as well as our Powertrain and Outlet parts, and the logistical complications were eating up time and profitability. Our crosstown competitor closed their doors on December 9, 2008 and we went from very busy to controlled pandemonium as we tried to serve a rapidly increasing customer base during the busiest time of the year for collision work. Upon completion of the 21000 square foot warehouse, we were able to very efficiently accommodate much more business.
The Berger Service department has also experienced major changes. 18 of our 22 technicians are Master Mechanics. Seven service writers staff the drive-through service write-up area for quick check-in. The Parts building absorbed material that had been stored in the Prep Department. This allowed for two additional service bays to be installed. All the service bays have been updated with swing-arm style hoists to better accommodate the newer vehicles. They are also equipped with electronics so vehicles can be plugged in for calibrations from GM. The service floor has been resurfaced with modern epoxy coating which improves appearance and provides efficient cleanup. In 2002 a two bay Quick-lube center was added to provide additional service for our customers.