Before he opened his first car dealership in Vancouver close to 50 years ago, Jim Pattison was already turning a profit buying and selling cars.
“When I was at John Oliver high school, there were 1,800 kids and only two cars were driven by kids,” he recalled during an interview with Black Press.
“I was one of them, driving a ‘37 Austin two-seater convertible. My dad helped me get it. It was financed through the Consolidated Finance Company, and my dad co-signed for it. I sold it after I graduated from school, and made a slight profit on it.
“That’s how I paid my way through university,” Pattison said, “buying and selling cars.”
Pattison’s first dealership opened in 1961 at the corner of 18th Avenue and Cambie Street in Vancouver – a General Motors franchise that not only was the start of the Jim Pattison Auto Group, but the beginning of the huge Jim Pattison Group of Companies that today employs more than 33,000 people and has $7.2 billion in sales annually.
“Everything we have started with that business at 18th and Cambie,” Pattison said. “We bought a three-pump Home Oil gas station, with a small showroom, with a $40,000 loan from the Royal Bank. We sold 25 cars in the first month.”
The first store was purchased on May 8, 1961. And roughly a decade later, its success led General Motors to bend – offering the Pattison group a second franchise.
“GM policy at the time was not to give a dealer more than one franchise,” Pattison explained. “But there was a problem with a dealer in Coquitlam, and they asked us to help out. We acquired a Chevrolet franchise, and opened on Kingsway in Burnaby.
“Then 1979, maybe 1980, Toyota came to us and offered us three dealerships in the North Shore, New Westminster and Surrey. We took all three, but they were losing money so we gave up the one in New Westminster.”
Today, the Jim Pattison Auto Group has grown to include 18 locations in Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island, selling and servicing eight brands of automobiles. New Toyota, Lexus, Hyundai, Volvo, Scion, Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles are sold under the Pattison name, as are used cars through the company’s Cars Unlimited brand.
“It gives you more opportunities,” Pattison said, explaining why the auto giant sells numerous different brands.
“Each manufacturer has certain advantages to suit different customers.”
Already the dominant player in British Columbia’s automotive industry, Pattison sees no reason why the company can’t continue to grow, even as he acknowledges people may use their cars less in the future, but will still want their own vehicles for when they do.
“There will be more people – and more cars. These days, people want their own personal transportation,” he reasoned. “As cities get crowded, there will be more people using transit, and they will be using their cars less. But people will still want their own transportation, to go their different ways.”
“When I grew up, a lot of families didn’t have a car. Now, most have two cars, and if the kids drive, you could have three or four.”