Representatives of groups that received cash grants from the Saunders Family Foundation gather around family patriarch Bob Saunders (front row, centre) at the foundation's celebration event at Saunders Subaru in Colwood. With the dealership recently sold to the Jim Pattison Auto Group, family members plan to focus more time on foundation activities and other community work.

Representatives of groups that received cash grants from the Saunders Family Foundation gather around family patriarch Bob Saunders (front row, centre) at the foundation's celebration event at Saunders Subaru in Colwood. With the dealership recently sold to the Jim Pattison Auto Group, family members plan to focus more time on foundation activities and other community work.

UPDATE: Emotional day for Saunders family in Colwood

Longtime family-run Subaru dealership changing hands, two years after succession plan initiated

Members of the Saunders family took time Wednesday to reflect on the end of an era in Colwood, the sale of their Subaru dealership to the Jim Pattison Auto Group.

After 36 years in business, the iconic sales and service operation opened by Bob and Norma Saunders on Island Highway is changing hands Monday. The impact of that change was not lost on family patriarch and community leader Bob Saunders.

“It’s quite an emotional day for the family,” he said, adding, “it’s good emotion.”

He noted the sale will be positive for the West Shore, as the diversity of the Pattison Group will be able to create more jobs and business for the region. And it’s that community that was at the heart of the family’s decision. “The community in the area has always come first and foremost … We’ll (now) be able to do more,” Saunders said.

Two years ago, son Dave Saunders was tasked by his parents to begin succession planning for the business and their family. Through that process several offers were made to buy the business.

But before they would hand over the keys, the Saunders family had a number of conditions to be met, Dave said, including retention of all staff, keeping their customers and customer service at the forefront of the business, signing a long-term lease agreement for the land and continuing the dealership’s community initiatives.

Dave said it took some negotiating, but at the end of the day, the Pattison Auto Group saw the merit in the company the Saunders family has spent the last 36 years building.

He also noted it was a very emotional decision for the family.

After a soft close on Sunday, which will see computer systems switched over among other changes, the dealership will reopen Monday under a new name.

Siblings Edie Foster, Ruth and Dave Saunders will work with the new team, which will include the existing Saunders Subaru staff, to assist with the transition over the next few months. After that, Dave said, there could be opportunities for them to move in a different direction, or transition to another position within The Jim Pattison Group, which was also one of the reasons for accepting their offer.

He noted that they will also now be able to focus on some of their other properties in the area.

But the road here hasn’t been easy for the family.

Dave noted it took roughly a year of negotiations to finalize the deal, during which time even some members of the family couldn’t be given details due to confidentiality agreements. But, he said, “the coffee is still on, the programs are still on … It’s business as usual on Monday.”

With this transition, the family will now focus on expanding their community involvement and work with the Saunders Family Foundation. Initiatives based out of the dealership, such as the Comfy Kids program, which provides a courtesy Subaru Forester to families in need of transportation to and from Vancouver for treatment at B.C. Children’s Hospital, will continue in partnership with the Pattison Group.

Even the dealership’s sign, which is rented out for community messages with proceeds benefiting the Help Fill a Dream program, will continue.

“We’re excited about the next chapter for the Saunders family,” Dave said. “I’m very proud of all of them and what they’ve accomplished in 36 years.”

The Jim Pattison Auto Group will own five Subaru locations in Western Canada with the acquisition of Saunders Subaru, making it the largest Subaru retailer in Canada. Both Harbottle, president of the Jim Pattison Auto Group, and Ruth Saunders serve as members of the Subaru National Advisory Board in Canada.

katie@goldstreamgazette.com

 

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