Ken Nelson Auto Thrives in a Small Market
In 1981, Rick Curia had an interest in fast cars and people. So, his friend Chuck Stephenitch at Ken Nelson Buick Pontiac in Dixon offered him a job as a salesperson and the use of a vehicle. While he wasn’t sure at first about working in the auto business, he quickly rose to sales manager, eventually becoming a partner in the business with Ken Nelson. As the company grew and evolved under Curia’s leadership, it’s safe to say that Chuck had led him down the right road.
“I fell in love with the business and what I saw as taking care of people’s needs,” Curia explains. “I also wanted to change the stereotype of auto dealers that existed at the time.”
When Ken Nelson purchased his first dealership, Buick, in 1964, he also believed that the company – and the people who worked for it – had to be held to the highest standards of integrity, especially in a small community. Curia, who bought out his partner in 2010, dedicated himself to growth but also to maintaining these high standards.
“It all comes down to people,” he says. “We needed really good ones because in a small town, great customer service and being a good neighbor is key.”
Curia also points to the commitment that the company has always made to local non-profit organizations to continue the development of community relationships.
Since 1965, more than 60 new and pre-owned dealerships have come and gone in the Sauk Valley area.
“We have seen many dealerships come and go,” Curia says. “I knew that if we wanted to stay, we had to add more brands to our stable of dealerships. I saw that we had a window of opportunity and we worked seven days a week to achieve our vision.”
At one time the auto group offered locations in Dixon and Sterling. In 2009, Curia brought all franchises to Dixon to centralize staff and amenities. Today, the company represents ten brands including Buick, GMC, Nissan, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Toyota, Chrysler, Dodge Jeep, and Ram. The stores are all in one location in Dixon.
Curia looks forward to the future of the company with the involvement of his son and daughter. Son Jamie is currently overseeing the purchase of inventory and internal operations and daughter Mandy manages employees, marketing, and customer service. Both successfully completed the NADA Academy and are ready to help their dad take the dealership into the next generation.
“I’m confident that they are very capable of running the business one day,” Curia explains. “But I still feel like I have some gas in my tank.”
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