Austin and Blake Salinas, owners of Friendly Auto Mall in Liberty, formerly BJ Ford, plan to win their customers’ trust one deal at a time. The Salinas brothers, who also own Friendly Ford of Crosby, say they are excited to get the Liberty business up and running by Nov. 1.
“BJ Ford was a store we had our eyes on for a long time. It checked a lot of boxes for us. It was a brand we know in an area we know. Bruce Burnham and Robert Dunn did a great job of running that store for many years. We were planning to go in and buy the dealership. It was basically going to be a turnkey operation – a change of ownership and leave everything in place,” said Austin Salinas.
They were disappointed when Ford decided instead to purchase the franchise. Not to be deterred, the Salinas came up with another plan – to keep the business open for late-model used vehicle sales and repairs. Instead of it being another Ford dealership, Friendly Auto Mall will be an extension of Friendly Ford of Crosby. Most of the familiar faces on the sales floor and maintenance department in Liberty will be the same, according to the Salinas.
“About 85 percent of the staff is staying on with us. We will have about 30 employees at the Liberty location. However, there were a couple of positions that overlapped with our dealership in Crosby that were lost,” said Blake Salinas.
The salespeople for Friendly Auto Mall, said Austin, will be able to sell vehicles at both locations – used certified autos in Liberty and new Fords in Crosby.
“If they have a customer in Liberty who says, ‘Hey, I want a new Ford.’ They will also be their salesperson for Friendly Ford of Crosby, so they can drive them over here and work their deal for the new vehicle,” said Austin.
While this plan isn’t as the Salinas had originally envisioned when they tried to buy the Ford dealership, the Salinas say they are turning what could have been a negative into a positive.
“This will also open up their book of business for the Liberty salespeople. Not only can they continue to sell Fords, but there will be a bigger used car operation to sell from,” said Austin.
The Salinas also have come up with another way of performing warranty work for Ford customers in the Liberty area who don’t want to drive the extra 20 miles to Crosby. Friendly Ford has hired several drivers whose job every day will be to transport vehicles needing warranty work to and from Liberty and Crosby. Here’s how that will work: the customer will drop off their vehicle in Liberty, a Friendly Ford driver will pick up the vehicle and transport it to Crosby where the work will be performed; once the work is performed on the vehicle, it will be returned to Liberty, at no additional cost to the customer.
As most of the maintenance people who worked for BJ Ford are staying on, the Salinas say most maintenance and repair work can still be performed in Liberty.
“We have the benefit of a massive, fine-tuned service department in Liberty. If something goes wrong with a vehicle, we have 20 bays back there where we can fix it. We are keeping the same technicians. If there is an issue there that we can’t figure out in Liberty, then we can bring the vehicle here to Crosby to be checked out by our technicians. That will mean a lot of eyes on vehicles when needed,” said Austin.
The Salinas purchased Friendly Ford of Crosby from their father, Fred Salinas, in April 2022. Fred got his start in the automotive industry right out of college, working for Ford on the corporate side. In the early 1990s, Fred joined Ford’s dealer development program and obtained his first dealership, which performed well.
“It was called Skyline Ford, about five miles east of downtown Dallas. That thing took off like a rocket, but Dad had partners there and eventually he decided that he wanted to own a dealership outright. (Former Houston Rocket) Elvin Hayes had built this store in Crosby. Our dad bought it in November 2002 and we have grown it over the last 20 years organically,” said Austin. “This dealership started out doing 40 new/40 used vehicles per month, and before COVID, we were selling 150 new and 80-100 used per month. Obviously that has done down a bit because of inventory issues, but this store is still dialed in.”
At around the time that the Salinas brothers bought out their father’s interest in the business, another Ford dealership in Cleveland was undergoing a transformation. Anderson Ford, owned by the late Alfred Anderson, had sold to Demontrond Ford. Two former employees of Anderson Ford came to work for the Salinas, including Brittany VanCamp, who brought along expertise. Later on, two other former Anderson Ford employees joined Friendly Ford, making the transition for the Salinas brothers even smoother, said Austin.
Over the years, purchasing habits have changed, and Friendly Ford has adapted with it. Buyers used to want to kick the tires and take a vehicle for a test drive before signing on the dotted line. Instead of waiting for the customer to come in and due to a shortage of vehicles, Friendly Ford is actively engaging its customers by asking them to think ahead regarding their vehicle needs.
“We call on our customers and say, ‘Hey, it’s going to take a while for this vehicle to be built, so do you want to go ahead and start the process?’ It’s worked out well. There is nothing better than when a transport vehicle arrives with their cars and trucks, and they are already all sold to our customers,” said Austin.
For those with a surplus of vehicles due to a death or change in circumstances, the Liberty and Crosby locations may be interested in buying the vehicle.
“We also will be a buying center. If someone retires in your family and you have a second car you no longer need, then we can get you Kelly Blue Book value for your vehicle,” Blake said.
One thing that will not change for the Liberty-Dayton area, which has come to rely on BJ Ford, is the community support from the dealership, the Salinas say.
“We will definitely be fully engaged in the community. In Crosby, we are a big sponsor here. We are the anchor sponsor of the Crosby High School football stadium scoreboard. We also help with Project Graduation. We are going to be doing the same things there in Liberty,” Austin said.
Friendly Ford to become a Ford Elite dealer
Change is coming for Ford Company. In March, Ford announced that it is creating two divisions – one for gas-engine vehicles (Ford Blue) and one for electric vehicles (Ford E).
“We are going to be a Ford Elite dealer here in Crosby, which means that we can sell both Ford Blue and Ford E vehicles. Ford gave dealers options and we decided we wanted to offer the whole ball of wax,” said Austin, “but it’s going to require a substantial financial commitment to get our building up to par with Ford standards.”
Citing statistics from Ford, Blake said that 80 percent of American car owners live within 20 miles of a Ford store.
“If we are a Ford Elite dealer, then we have to have charging stations available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We will have to restructure for that,” Blake said. “The thing about the charges they are requiring for these electric vehicles. A 10-minute charge would give you just a little more than 40 miles. In an hour, you would get a full charge. If you are 50 miles from home and you have 20 miles left on your electric vehicle, then you can stop by the dealership and get enough juice to get home.”
Though many vehicle owners will never give up on gas-diesel engines because of charging times and the distances they must travel, another group of buyers has embraced the change.
“Seventy percent of all the electric vehicles we have sold so far are non-Ford customers. They are coming from Subaru and other dealers. Ford is not trying to get you to switch. Ford still has the best F-150 truck, the best diesel truck, the best off-road vehicle with the Bronco and the best small truck with the Maverick. We want to keep that because there are people who love their gas and diesel engines. We are not going to cannibalize our customer base, but the guy who is interested in an electric car, we are going to be able to help him, too,” Blake said.
As a Ford Elite dealer, Friendly Ford of Crosby also has plans to add a drive-through car wash for its customers to use.
“We are going to be putting more money in our stores. The Crosby store will be our flagship store. We are trying to make it a luxury brand with a great customer experience,” said Austin.
Pour a little queso on a turd and you have a turd.
I’ve dealt with Crosby ford before, that’s why I switched to bj ford . Bj ford always treated me with respect, and was always straight forward when it came to repairs or warranty work on my trucks . For a small town dealership they had the best service around with the least amount of bull crap to deal with!