|The Graff name has been prominent in Flint, Michigan automobile circles for almost a century. Otto P. Graff, founder of the company which bore his name for most of that time, signed an agreement with the Ford Motor company in 1914 to sell 125 cars a year.
As the treasurer of Genesee County from 1910 until 1914, Mr. Graff was well known to the Flint banking fraternity. These contacts smoothed the way to his borrowing the necessary funds to finance his new dealership.
And so, with $900 which he and his wife Flora had saved, the borrowed money and high hopes, the new enterprise was launched as the Ford Sales Company. It was located on North Saginaw Street just north of the Flint River. The first year was encouraging with sales exceeding the 125 car quota and reaching the 150 mark before year's end.
Several important steps were taken in the following months. The name of the company was changed from Ford Sales Company to Otto P. Graff Motor Sales, and it was moved to the corner of Kearsley and Harrison Streets where it remained until 1918. That year the Fordson Tractor was added to the Ford line. Henry Ford bought Henry Leland's interests in the Lincoln car, and it too became a part of the Graff line which eventually included Ford, Ford truck, Lincoln-Mercury and Ford tractors.
The business continued to grow, and in 1924 a new sales peak of 2,400 vehicles was reached. Three years later in 1927, the Model T was discontinued, and for 18 months there were no Fords available as the company converted to the Model A.
Also in 1927, Graff's built a new garage at 914 Harrison Street and a new sales department on Saginaw Street.
During this peak expansion, Mr. Graff added five sub dealers plus a variety of other holdings to his enterprise.
With the advent of the Model A, business looked good again. Then came the disaster - the Depression of 1929. Otto P. Graff lost everything he had worked so hard to earn.
But thanks to the Citizen's Bank and Mr. Edward Burroughs, Mr. Graff was able to weather the financial storm which devastated the country. The bank took all the stock in the corporation and held it until 1948 when the last of it was redeemed. All during that period, Mr. Graff was paid $85 a week with all profits going to the bank.
In 1936, Max H. Graff, fresh out of the University of Michigan, went to work for his father. He was no stranger to the business, having worked during vacations washing, servicing and selling cars - learning the business from the ground up. The following year he was assigned to manage the branch at Dort Highway and Davison Road.
Much to the chagrin of Mr. Graff, Ford decided to take Lincoln and Mercury away at the time when over 2,000 orders with deposits were on hand. During the entire year of 1946, Ford allocated only 176 cars and trucks leaving many customers very unhappy. It required another 2 and a half years to clean up the backlog.
When Otto's second son, Rex, a graduate of Ferris State College, returned from WWII, he was put in charge of the motor rebuilding department. New parts were very scarce so the rebuilding business prospered. It was sold in 1949, and Rex Graff took over the tractor franchise. A building was constructed on Davison Road. Rex made that business thrive, and it was eventually sold in 1969 after Otto's death. In 1948, Max was made General Manager.
In 1958, Otto P. Graff became semi-retired and Max became the dealer-designate. He was president of the Kiwanis Club that year, was chairman of the United Fund in 1961 and president of the Michigan Auto Dealers Association in 1967 in addition to partial stockholder.
Rex came back to the dealership in 1970 as General Manager and retired in 1975 at which time he became the executive secretary of the Genesee County Dealers Association.
Max H. (Hank) Graff, Jr., Max's son, graduated from Michigan State University in 1969 and taught school in Flint for two years. Then in 1971, he left teaching to work full time at the dealership as a used car buyer. He had spent summers while growing up working at various jobs at the dealership. He became General Manager in 1975. At that time he hired Phil Goldman to assist him in management. About two years later, Hank became the Dealer and a stockholder when he purchased Rex Graff's stock.
In 1982, a drastic step had to be taken for two reasons. First, General Motors gave all of its employees the option to purchase any General Motors vehicle below dealer's cost. At that time, about 50% of the Fords sold at Graff's was to the United Auto Workers members. Obviously, Graff's could not be price competitive. Secondly, Ford had a problem keeping a second dealer in Flint and had been forced to buy and own that dealership, and it was obvious they would be forced to keep it.
The Graffs discovered that the Uptegraff Chevrolet agency was for sale in Davison, and within two weeks, they were able to consummate a deal with them. Ford was notified June 1, 1982 that Graffs would give up their franchise as of August 1, 1982. Hank Graff signed a Chevrolet franchise on August 2, 1982. These were the two oldest family held dealerships in Genesee County, Uptegraff's for 60 years and Graff's for 68 years, at the time of the acquisition.
This has been a very successful operation as evidenced by the fact that 4,703 vehicles were retailed in 1986. That was 95th largest in the United States and second largest among the Chevrolet dealers in Michigan. The dealership was expanded to what is now about 58,000 square feet of floor space. Television advertising had been a very important ingredient in the success of the Davison dealership. Knowing that, and that the television stations used also covered the Bay City, Michigan market, it appeared to be a good idea to buy the Wickstrom dealership in Bay City when it became available in 1986. The year 1987 proved the wisdom of that thinking as the Bay City dealership significantly improved sales and profits compared with the year before. Phil Goldman, General Sales Manager at the Davison dealership, was Hank's partner in this dealership until 1990. Wayne Wedding, Sales Manager at the Davison dealership, became Hank's partner and General Manager of the Bay City dealership in 1990 when Hank bought out Phil.
In 1987, Hank found that the Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Chrysler dealer, Rich Roehrs, wanted to retire, so that store was purchased. Tim Bell, the Controller from the Bay City dealership was Hank's partner there until 1995. At that time Hank bought out Tim, John Kirby, a Sales Manager from the Davison dealership became Hank's partner and General Manager.
In 1990, Hank and Tim Shannon, a Sales Manager from the Bay City dealership and long term Graff employee, acquired a Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile dealership in Fostoria, Ohio. Hank eventually purchased Tim's share of the dealership and in 1996 Jeff Cole became Hank's partner and General Manager. Several years later, the Pontiac, Cadillac, GMC dealership in Fostoria was purchased and folded into the store. Now all GM brands are available.
In 1991, Hank and Keith Barnett, the Fixed Operations Manager from the Bay City dealership, purchased the Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile dealership in Sandusky, Michigan. In 1996 the dealership was relocated to a new facility on the west side of town.
1999 was a year of growth in the Graff Group as two additional dealerships were acquired.
In May, 1999, Hank purchased the former Schaffer Volvo and GMC Truck dealership located in Flint and Saginaw. Joe Seymour serves as General Manager of both the Graff Flint & Saginaw Truck Centers.
In September, 1999, Hank acquired the Chevrolet-Pontiac-Oldsmobile dealership in Durand, Michigan. Mike Benmark, from the Davison dealership, became the General Manager of this newest member of the Graff Group, Hank's seventh operation.
Chris Graff, Hank's son, was promoted to General Manager of the Davison dealership when Benmark left to run the Durand dealership. He has subsequently purchased stock and is Hank's partner at the flagship Graff store in Davison.
2003 was another growth year in the Graff Group as Hank purchased his eighth operation in Mt. Pleasant and ninth operation in Ottawa, Ohio.
In Mt. Pleasant, Hank purchased M&M Chevrolet. Wayne Wedding bought the store with Hank and took oversight responsibilities for both Graff Chevrolet in Bay City and Graff Chevrolet- Mt. Pleasant.
Jeff Cole added oversight responsibilities in Ottawa with the purchase of Ottawa Chevrolet. That store, now called Graff Chevrolet-Ottawa, moved out of its aging facility in 2004 to a newly renovated facility on Perry Rd. In addition to the new facility, Graff Chevrolet-Ottawa sells used vehicles at Graff Autosmart, a satellite operation in Leipsic, Ohio.
As the Graff footprint grows, we continue to service more customers with a smile and attitude of "Making Friends Since 1914".