When Peter Swainson was a kid, he spent most of his free time at his neighbourhood car dealership.
“I was just a car nut. I’d jump on my bicycle and go to the dealership to look at cars — long before the staff worked for my father I was already hanging around the store.”
It was 49 years ago that his father Bryan Swainson bought Southside Dodge, when Peter was just 13 years old. Now the third generation of Swainsons, Peter’s son Matt, ensures the values of the store will continue far into the future.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth over the years, but so much of it hasn’t changed!” Peter Swainson says. “It still boils down to providing clients with a trusting, transparent experience. That old fashioned retail approach hasn’t changed, and I don’t think it will.”
Southside Dodge recently decided to expand their automotive services with more space for parts, accessories and vehicle maintenance, while selling off the last of their RVs and giving up the lease on the six acres of land next door.
“I’m glad we’re the size we are — we didn’t need all that space,” Swainson says. “Most dealers are going to try to function on a smaller footprint. It reduces property taxes, and new inventory flows much better from the manufacturer so you don’t need to carry as many vehicles.”
“Everyone in Alberta has faced rough waters and headwinds through the economic downturn, and it’s changed the way we do business,” Swainson says. “We’re seeing some very positive results from being leaner.”
The next 49 years
Over the past four or five years Southside Dodge has seen dwindling RV demand as Albertans faced a challenging economy.
“We did see a surge in sales because of COVID-19, but that was just a flash in the pan. There are too many dealers with too much product and not enough demand. Plus it’s very seasonal, so now we can focus on year-round service and sales for automotive.”
In the next ten years Swainson expects electrification to take hold, and online shopping has forever changed how consumers shop.
“We’re dealing with well-educated buyers. That’s great. We’re not a store that wants to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.”
Southside Dodge is recognized continually as the #1 trusted dealership in Red Deer, and Swainson plans to keep it that way.
“We’re one of only a few independents left in Red Deer — the rest are owned by dealer groups headquartered elsewhere, which means the manager running the store doesn’t have any skin in the game. That makes a difference to how you value your customers and staff,” he says. “We’ve got great staff who’ve been with us a long time, and repeat customers who’ve returned many times over 49 years.”