Bighorn Toyota celebrates 40th anniversary
A chance to get in on a relatively new foreign make of vehicle that was gaining popularity back in the middle 1970s turned into a boon for the Zeder family and the Glenwood Springs business community.
Forty years later, Bighorn Motors Toyota is going strong and is planning an open house celebration in honor of its birthday Friday.
General Manager Steve Zeder tells the story of how his dad and Bighorn founder, Dick Zeder, almost became a Volkswagen dealer in South Carolina, but landed instead in Glenwood Springs, where Toyota proved to be the perfect fit.
The family grew up outside Detroit, where Dick’s father, James Zeder, had been an engineer for Chrysler. Dick went on to earn an engineering degree, but veered to the business side of things, earning a master’s in business at the University of Michigan and going to work for the accounting firm of Arthur Anderson.
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“He always knew that he wanted to have a business of his own and be his own boss,” Steve Zeder said.
When the family moved to Denver shortly after Steve was born, Dick hooked up with a friend of the family, Jack Brewer, who owned a string of auto dealerships, including Pioneer Porsche and Audi in Denver.
“Jack said, ‘Hey, did you ever think about the car business?’” That planted the seed for what would be become a multigenerational line of work for the Zeders.
Dick worked alongside Brewer in the sales department while weighing his options to break into the business himself.
“Dad was an aficionado of European sports cars,” Steve Zeder said, explaining that first opportunity to open a VW dealership in South Carolina.
“He actually walked away from his earnest money, at last minute deciding that wasn’t where he wanted to be,” he said.
Toyota at the time was running an ad in Automotive News looking for new dealerships, and one of the locations it had its eye on was Glenwood Springs. The Zeders were familiar with the area, and decided to give it a try.
“Toyota was still a little bit of an unknown at that time, but a business acquaintance of dad’s gave him some advice and said he thought Toyota was going to become a strong brand,” Zeder said.
So, he bought the property on Sixth Street next to the current-day Tequila’s Restaurant where Revier Equipment was selling International Harvester, Scout and Lincoln-Mercury.
Bighorn Motors was formed, the Lincoln-Mercury dealership was sold to Jack Nilsson, who is now the chairman of the board for Glenwood Ford, and Toyota became the new brand in town.
“Business was pretty good, even though there were a couple of rough goes in the 1980s after the oil shale bust,” Steve Zeder said.
“Toyota quickly became well-known for reliability, and with the move toward energy efficiency the market shifted to the smaller vehicles,” he said.
“The beauty of Toyota is that it’s a wonderful product, but there is also a breadth of the product line and we have a competitive product in just about every segment of the market,” Zeder said.
Bighorn did add Saab to its mix from 1981 to 1997 when Steve joined the business after working for John Elway Toyota in Denver. Dick Zeder retired in 2005, and is still living at home.
“Saab was a good brand for the valley, because they were one of the first to offer front-wheel drive and they had a little cachet to them, some exclusivity,” Zeder said.
Bighorn has also benefited from some longtime employees, including 33-year dealership veteran and customer relations manager Don Nisbet, sales representative Ed Rosenberg, who has been with the dealership for 30 years, and Jennifer Rose, current general sales manager, who has 22 years with the business.
“One of my father’s principles was to take care of people, and not just the customer but both the customer and the employees,” Zeder said. “I subscribe very much to the theory that a customer can tell if you have happy employees.”
In 2012, Bighorn purchased and remodeled the former Chevrolet dealership building in Glenwood Springs and moved out of its original digs on Sixth Street.
One of the big perks with that move was an increase in vehicle service capacity. Bighorn went from servicing 500 vehicles a month to 1,400, and also grew from 32 employees to 53 after the move.
Bighorn is celebrating its 40th birthday at the same time Sunlight Mountain Resort is celebrating 50 years. To honor the dual anniversaries, Bighorn, which is the official vehicle sponsor for Sunlight, is holding a drawing for a set of 50th anniversary limited edition Meier skis.
Anyone who test drives a Toyota will be entered into the drawing, which will be Dec. 17.
Today’s birthday open house will also treat customers to a free Sweet ColoraDough doughnut and coffee.
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Scott Ely founded Sunsense Solar 30 years and initially operated as a one-man crew. His focus was installing solar electric systems on backwoods cabins off the grid. Now the company’s work includes some of the biggest solar farms in the region.