Shavers mark 100 years of auto sales
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent February 9, 2013 11:22PM
Frank Shaver, right, meets with builders at the site for a new Shaver Pontiac dealership in Indiana Harbor in this 1948 photo. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 11, 2013 6:01AM
The Shaver family has been putting people across Northwest Indiana and the nation behind the wheel of their dream car for an entire century.
The family dynasty of auto dealers, which includes Shaver Preferred Motors at 5701 Broadway in Merrillville, began in 1913, when family patriarch E.L. Shaver opened a Hudson Essex distributorship in Hammond, said Mike Shaver, E.L.’s grandson and semi-retired owner of Shaver Preferred Motors.
E.L.’s four sons followed in their father’s footsteps, opening Pontiac dealerships in Hammond and East Chicago, a Chevrolet dealership in Gary and dealerships in Alabama and California.
Many of E.L.’s grandchildren remained in the industry, as did some of his great-grandchildren, several of whom have operated dealerships in Northwest Indiana, said Mike Shaver, whose son Mickey Shaver and nephew Jim “Jim Beem” Beemsterboer have been in the business for decades and are in the process of purchasing Shaver Preferred Motors.
And now a fifth generation of Shavers is entering into the car business, Mickey said.
“The footprint the Shaver family has in Northwest Indiana spans so many generations. People come in and say. ‘I bought my first car from your grandfather in the 1950s,’ ” Mickey Shaver said.
Marking the centennial
Shaver Preferred Motors is celebrating the family milestone this year with sales promotions, tent sales throughout the year, a chance to win $100,000 with scratch-off tickets given to those who test drive one of its vehicles, and by sharing one of the family’s many stories from the last 100 years each month.
The family has plenty of stories to tell, like how E.L. Shaver provided local steelworkers the financing they needed to buy a car when the banks wouldn’t.
“They would come in every Friday to pay him, no matter what,” Mike Shaver said.
You could buy a new Hudson Essex for $868, with $299 down and one year to pay.
Then there is the nickel tale. Mickey related how his dad would walk past E.L. Shaver’s dealership in Hammond every day on his way to and from elementary school.
“Dad’s friends always wanted to walk with him. The dealership was a very prominent business in the area at the time and there would be executives in the office. But no matter who my great-grandfather was meeting with, he would stop and have my dad tell him about his day at school,” Mickey said.
His great-grandfather would then go to the dish of nickels that was always on his desk and hand one each to his dad and his friends so they could get a Coke from the machine.
“Now my dad always has quarters on his desk,” Mickey said.
Through the years, while selling new cars, the family participated in the annual Chicago Auto Show, held every February at McCormick Place.
“When we had the Pontiac franchise, we would go to the car show as salespeople and get a lot of business from it,” Beemsterboer said.
“You need to know what’s coming your way and the car show had all the literature,” Mike said.
But the car show is for new cars, and Shaver Preferred Motors, which Mike Shaver opened in 1994, sells used cars and does service work at a location across the street.
Past, present, future
It’s been 19 years since Mike Shaver opened his latest dealership with one employee. It’s grown to 28 employees, fueled by Internet sales and repeat business.
“Internet sales have grown tremendously, about 20 percent, over the last few years,” Mickey said.
He said more than half of their sales are from repeat customers.
“One man and his extended family bought more than 16 cars from us through the years,” he said.
Rosalind Thurston, of Merrillville, bought a 2010 BMW from Shaver Preferred Motors and her husband a 2011 model vehicle.
“We’ve always had a good experience with them. They stand behind what they say,” Thurston said of the dealership.
Anderson “Tiny” Echols of Gary said he’s been buying vehicles from Shaver Preferred Motors for years, even driving from Indianapolis when he lived there to make a purchase.
“They’ve been nothing but good to me,” Echols said.
He said he buys a car, pays it off, then buys a newer model vehicle.
“I’ve never had any problems with any of the cars,” he said.
The dealership has supported many community activities through the years, including Little League and the Boys & Girls Clubs. It has an excellent rating with the Better Business Bureau and last year won the Joe Krier Quality Dealer of the Year award from the Indiana Independent Automobile Dealers Association.
According to the association, the award-winning dealer must be consumer oriented, have a record of good business decisions based on honesty and integrity and must represent themselves as a civic leader within the community.
“Shaver Preferred Motors represents all of these attributes,” the association stated in a news release.
After 45 years in the business, Mike is getting ready to retire and let his son and nephew take over.
“This is a young person’s business. It’s time for the next generation,” Mike said.