Buzz Rodland is all smiles as he walks into the new customer lounge at Rodland Toyota-Scion.
The remodeled space offers comfortable chairs, a flat-screen television and a full-service coffee bar that serves up everything from drip coffee to mochas, as well as snacks like bagels and freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies.
The area at 6816 Evergreen Way in Everett was originally the dealership’s showroom when it opened in 1975. As a customer lounge, it’s a source of compliments, said Rodland, the second-generation owner of the company.
“It’s not only the largest one in the county; it’s bigger than most of the showrooms,” Rodland said. “I am getting more compliments from customers about that lounge than practically anything else. Everyday they’re thanking me saying, ‘I feel at home.’”
The lounge was the final piece of a two-year, $4 million renovation of the dealership.
The remodel also included expanding the showroom and rebuilding and updating the service areas.
It’s an example of his commitment to his family’s business — and also his dedication to the community.
Rodland, who is the 2013-14 Washington State Auto Dealers Association president, has continued to grow his family’s business that he’s led for now nearly 30 years.
He’s also been an active supporter of worthy causes, giving time and money to the Cocoon House, Bridgeways, Everett Public Schools Foundation and many others.
Each year, Rodland travels with the South Everett/Mukilteo Rotary Club to volunteer his time working on schools in a remote village of Guatemala.
It’s this drive, devotion to the community and selflessness that has led Rodland to be named the 2014 Herald Business Journal Executive of the Year.
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Rodland begins the story of his company’s 102-year history with a Norwegian named Sig Follestad.
The man earned his U.S. citizenship by serving in the Navy and ended up settling in Everett, Rodland said. In 1912, Follestad founded F&M Tire Hospital at 26th Street and Colby Avenue. The company, which later became Toyota-Scion of Everett, repaired, replaced and serviced tires.
“Most were made of gum rubber and wouldn’t last long,” Rodland said. “About 2,000 miles is as long as they would last and they blew out frequently. There were very few paved roads in 1912 so business was good.”
The company grew into a service garage that had a gas pump and sold used cars, tires, and batteries. Follestad knew Rodland’s grandfather, Gus, a teamster who drove the first horse team for Robbins Transfer Co. in Everett. He asked Gus Rodland to send one of his sons to work at his service garage. In 1935, Rodland’s father, Wally, started sweeping floors, washing cars, pumping gas, and acting as a chauffeur for Follestad. Wally Rodland continued to work his way up through the company and in 1962 acquired ownership.
Rodland’s middle name is Sigard in honor of Follestad. He keeps a couple of things that belonged to Follestad on his office desk. A small, golden trinket shaped like a boot and a piece of petrified wood have been there since about 1935, Rodland said.
“It’s just always been here and it will always be here,” he said.
Like his father, Rodland in 1962 started washing cars, taking inventory and sweeping floors for the company. The 1968 Everett High School graduate worked after school and always on Saturdays.
Rodland went on to study business and psychology at the University of Washington but continued to work at Rodland Toyota-Scion of Everett. He started selling cars and after graduating in 1974, went directly into that line of work for two years before he became a used car manager. The first car he sold was a red 1965 Plymouth Barracuda.
“You always remember that first one,” Rodland said. “I still have customers that I sold cars to that are still around. It’s amazing.”
Rodland worked his way up to general manager. He became president of the company after his father died in 1985.
The company now has 110 employees. Black-and-white photographs displayed on walls throughout the facility feature past employees. One, located near the front of the service department, is of his father pumping gas.
Another in an office upstairs shows Follestad standing in front of the plane flown by Charles Lindbergh to make the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris.
“That’s Dad in 1935 when he joined the company,” he said. “Sig is in the middle with the guys at Everett’s first airfield.”
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Rodland Toyota-Scion of Everett has grown and changed in many ways since 1975 when it first opened its location on Evergreen Way.
It was considered to be a big shop in those days with seven hoists, Rodland said. Today, the facility boasts 35 hoists. Large service doors were once manually opened and shut by employees. The remodel changed that with the installation over a year ago of five automatic high speed rolling Rytec doors.
The new facility also includes 25 skylights throughout the service areas. The entire facility is beautiful, said Bob Gardner, service manager. The changes have had a positive impact on employees.
“The employees are a lot more relaxed and there’s a lot more pride,” Gardner said. “We’re very proud to show it off and introduce people to different portions of the facility.”
Rodland hired Gardner in 2007. His boss has a huge heart and is passionate about his customers and employees, Gardner said.
“It’s amazing how involved (Rodland) is in every aspect from the business to the charities, the schools and the arts,” he added. “Every year we pull together and we do different activities and fundraisers.”
The company in 2013 raised $56,000 for United Way of Snohomish County. Rodland and company employees also support the American Red Cross, Everett Public Schools, Providence General Foundation, Schack Arts Center, Volunteers of America, and the Hands for Peacemaking Foundation, among other organizations.
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Rodland is part of a group of Rotarians from the South Everett/Mukilteo Rotary and Marysville Rotary clubs that travels through the Hands for Peacemaking Foundation once a year to Guatemala.
He and a team of nine other people built two schools during their last trip in March. It was Rodland’s eleventh visit to the country. His mother, Betty, funds the cost of desks for schools.
“The team has built 21 schools now and I’ve helped build 19 of them,” Rodland said.
The foundation also works to supply stoves to villagers that replace open fires used for cooking and heat. The open flames pose health and safety risks. The Aller stoves, manufactured in the foundation’s facility in Santa Cruz Barillas, Guatemala, are safe and take any residual smoke outside of huts.
“Most of these villages, they’re kind of lost in time,” said Pete Kinch, executive director of the Hands for Peacemaking Foundation. “It’s about daily survival. It’s that kind of environment that Buzz and the people who go with him choose to go to year after year.
“We try to take care of all the details and make it enjoyable but it’s still hard work.”
Rodland and his mother were honored by the Hands for Peacemaking Foundation as the 2012 recipients of the Aller Humanitarian Award for their efforts to provide education for young people in Guatemala.
The reason he returns to Guatemala year after year is simple.
“They need help,” Rodland said.
Giving back is a part of the Rodland family, said Mike Bartlett, a friend and charter member of the South Everett/Mukilteo Rotary Club.
“There’s always been in the Rodland family a commitment to giving back and serving the community,” Bartlett said.
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A strong interest in politics has also led Rodland to be involved in campaigns and lobby for his industry in Olympia. He is part of a dealer advisory committee for the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.
“Car dealerships are big generators of sales tax and B&O (business-and-occupation) tax and it’s important for everyone to share our mutual concerns because we drive a lot of revenue,” Rodland said.
Rodland is astute in political affairs and understands the importance of being involved, said Vicki Giles Fabre, executive vice president of the Washington State Auto Dealers Association.
“He brings a unique mix of business and fun to every task,” Fabré said.
Business continues to go well at the dealership, Rodland said. Toyota rewarded Rodland Toyota-Scion of Everett for its completed remodel with 800 additional vehicles.
Now the company has the largest inventory in its history.
“The economy is coming back and we’re blessed to have a full-time manufacturer that has a car or truck for everybody,” Rodland said. “Usually we’re out of hot-selling cars and we have everything right now.”
Rodland and his wife, Carol, have been married for 37 years.
They have two daughters, Lindsay Crow and Allison Rodland, who both work at the dealership, and three grandchildren.
Although the couple enjoys sailing and traveling, Rodland added that retiring isn’t something that he plans to do.
“I plan on taking more and more time off,” he said. “If you love what you do it’s not work. It’s fun seeing people and still fun to sell cars.”