Driving the Family Business at Jack Demmer Ford, “The Demmer difference” is more than just a motto. It’s a blueprint for success.
By Courtney Conover – From toy doctor kits and baby dolls to miniature squad cars and play food, it’s a known fact that a child’s play often imitates real life.
This principle certainly applies to Jim Demmer, vice president of Jack Demmer Ford here in Wayne.
“I recall being a child and playing car dealership—I remember one Christmas having a little dealership toy with cars,” says Jim, 65, who has always been enamored with cars. “I was certainly aware that my dad [the late Jack Demmer] was in the car business.”
It’s safe to say that Metro Detroit is aware of that fact as well.
For more than 60 years, the Demmer name has been virtually synonymous with automobiles, and the story behind the hallmark dealership that currently resides at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Newburgh is legendary. The Demmer family has served the City of Wayne as a Ford dealer without interruption since 1963, has been a Ford dealer since 1960, and the Demmer family’s presence in the Wayne area dates to 1957.
“We consider the dealership business starting with Jack,” says Jim of his father, Jack, who sold his first car at the age of 16 on the front lawn of Jack’s father’s home. “My father sold used cars with his father on Livernois Avenue—and that was just kind of the family business.”
The next chapter began in the spring of 1957 when Ford Motor Company gave the green light for Jack and his partner, Jimmy Spitler, to open an Edsel dealership. Together, Jack and Spitler, who met while playing baseball on their church’s men’s club team, opened Spitler-Demmer Edsel in September of that year at the corner of Glenwood and Wayne Road in Nankin Township. In stark contrast to today’s Jack Demmer dealership, the dealership in 1957 was housed in a former gas station and featured a one-car showroom.
On January 1, 1960, the Edsel dealership closed (due to Ford’s cancellation of the Edsel in 1959), and the Spitler-Demmer Ford dealership then opened in South Lyon. The Demmer family lived in Dearborn at the time, and Jack would often conduct business from his home back then.
“People would come over and talk to him about a car they were ordering, he’d bring a new car home to show to somebody, or if somebody bought a new car, my dad would bring it home and deliver it, and his partner would give my dad a ride back the next day,” recalls Jim.
“Remember, South Lyon to Dearborn was [quite far]—you didn’t have expressways between the two,” says Jim, who makes a point to emphasize the distance between the two cities, particularly back then. “So, my dad was doing business from his home, much like what his father [Charles Joseph Demmer] did when he sold used cars from his house before obtaining a used car lot.”
In 1963, the Spitler-Demmer Ford franchise was sold, and the Demmer family purchased a Ford franchise here in Wayne, which had been owned and operated by Clarence Bell. Fun fact: That particular location is not the spot where Jack Demmer Ford sits today. The current site of Jack Demmer Ford wouldn’t be built until 1969; the older location was actually located down the street.
In the fall of 1969, the Demmers relocated to their state-of-the-art location we all know today.
Things were going swimmingly. But a change was on the horizon.
“Mr. Spitler had two sons and a daughter, my parents had six children—two sons and four daughters,” remembers Jim. “They came to the realization that one dealership wasn’t going to be enough for two families.”
In March of 1975 Spitler-Demmer Ford became Jack Demmer Ford, when the Spitler’s interest was bought out by the Demmers.
Jack passed in 2017, but the Jack Demmer Automotive Group continues to thrive due to the robust support and teamwork put forth by the latter generations of the Demmer family.
And to say that it is a family affair would be an understatement.
Jim is a partner with his brother, Bill, who serves as president, and their four sisters have all worked in the business at various times. Bill’s son, Matt, is the general manager, Jim’s son, Rob, fulfills the role of finance manager at Jack Demmer Lincoln, and Bill’s daughter, Jackie, serves as the marketing manager.
Together, in addition to Jack Demmer Ford here in Wayne, the family operates Jack Demmer Lincoln in Dearborn, the Quick Lane at Jack Demmer Lincoln, and the Quick Lane at Jack Demmer Ford. Currently, the company employs 140 people at its Wayne location, and about 80 people at the Dearborn location.
Although it’s been over 87 years since the family’s patriarch, Jack, sold his first car—a 1935 Ford Coupe for a mere $135.00, Jack’s teachings have not since been forgotten.
“He always believed that if you take care of your community around you, your community will take care of you,” says Jim. “And you can apply that to the people who work for us, the people who live in this area, the not-for-profit organizations around us, and the economy at large. When the economy is good, we’re able to be more generous and assist the organizations around us. But when the economy sours, and it’s really hard, I’ve witnessed people coming back and doing business with us because we helped them—and they wanted to help us.”
Yes, good ethics and a “pay it forward” approach are two cornerstones that will serve any business well—and that will likely never change. What is always in a constant state of evolution, however, is the automotive industry itself.
“We’ve had to adapt to the selling and servicing of vehicles in a variety of ways through the years,” says Jim. “And the current supply chain issues have made it impossible for us to have the inventory we used to carry, but we have been able to take—and fill—customer orders, and people are able to get exactly what they want.”
Jim goes on to say that although the wait is slightly longer than it used to be, everything is coming together. “People behind the scenes at Ford are really working hard to get every vehicle built that they possibly can—and into customers’ hands,” he says.
And that, of course, includes both hybrid and electric vehicles.
“We’ve been selling hybrid vehicles for about 15 years,” says Jim. “Those are vehicles that have a gas engine and electric motor and batteries—and people are very satisfied with those. And they’re very practical.”
Ford’s all-electric offerings include the Mustang Mach-E, which, according to Auto Blog, is a well-executed EV with compelling performance and character and draws inspiration from the general concept and styling cues of its iconic namesake and then applies it to a more practical and popular body style.
And soon the company will deliver the all-electric Ford Lightening F-150.
Speaking of the future, there’s no greater place for car lovers to catch a glimpse than the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), which makes its return to the Motor City following a two-year hiatus. The event will take place from September 17-25 at downtown Detroit’s Huntington Place (formerly known as TCF Center). And Jack Demmer Ford is ready.
“The brand will be represented by our dealer crew, and it’s likely we’ll have salespeople manning the Ford display,” says Jim, who remembers grabbing a brochure from every car display when his dad would take him to auto shows when he was a young boy. “This year’s show will be different because it won’t just be an indoor display; they’re going to use outside, more experiential type of events, including driving demonstrations and test-drive opportunities.”
But even before the NAIAS, there’s something else to look forward to.
This month, on Saturday, July 9, Cruisin’ US12 returns to Michigan Avenue from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. here in Wayne, and, true to form, Jack Demmer Ford will put its very own spin on the festivities with The Pit Stop Car Show from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. in the Jack Demmer Ford parking lot.
“Because Cruising Michigan Avenue is a cruising kind of event, [The Pit Stop Car Show] is a show where people can come and go, which is why we call it a pit stop,” says Jim. “We’ll have music, there’ll be food trucks on site, and we always get a good turn out.”
There is no doubt about it, this is an exciting time for the Demmer brand. And the family welcomes the road ahead. When asked how the business will look 10, or even 20 years down the line, Jim is quite optimistic.
“I believe that we will still be owned by the Demmer family—just a different generation,” says Jim, whose favorite car in Ford’s line-up is the Mustang. In fact, Jim still remembers when his father brought one home for the first time. “And I believe that we’ll have a combination of electric, hybrid, and internal combustion vehicles that we’ll be selling and servicing.”
But, for now, the focus remains on doing what’s always been done: making their customers happy. There’s a specific name for the company’s approach, in fact. The family calls it “The Demmer Difference.”
“It is personalized attention,” says Jim, who married his wife, Linda, in 1986. The couple, who recently celebrated 35 years of marriage, has four grown children.
“We care about people, we’re proud to have our name on the building, and we deal with customers in such a manner that they want to come back again. And they want to send their family and friends to do business with us, too.”
A business model like that makes all the difference, indeed.