COVINGTON, Ga. — Ginn Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram moved into its new facility off Access Road in Covington on Monday, Oct. 12. Owner Billy Fortson said his staff is still trying to get settled in.
“It’s been such a change from where we were to where we are now,” he told The Covington News.
Fortson has been in the auto industry since he moved to Covington in June 1969 and went to work for his late father-in-law, S.A. Ginn.
Ginn and his brother moved to Covington nearly 100 years ago and opened a Ford dealership in 1922, Fortson said. Shortly after his brother died, Ginn sold the Ford franchise and bought the local Chevrolet franchise.
Fortson said Ginn Motor Company was formerly located in downtown Covington, directly across from the First Presbyterian Church, in a building now occupied by Ramsey’s
“If you go by the building, you’ll see a head stone that says Ginn Motor Company, 1928,” Forston said.
In 1946, Ginn added Oldsmobile to the company, Fortson said.
Fortson became the owner of Ginn Motor Company in 1987, after Ginn died. Fortson said he was able to purchase Ginn’s company shares shortly after his death.
In the same year, Fortson said, Chevrolet encouraged him to relocate the dealership and build a new facility at its current location on 8153 Access Road in Covington.
Fortson later purchased the Chrysler franchise from the Harris family in 2007. After the sale was finalized, Fortson said he knew it would be long before he’d need to relocated the Chrysler dealership, too.
“When I bought this franchise from Harris family about 13 years ago, the building they were in was built in late 50s, so it had obviously lived its lifespan,” he said of the old dealership location neighboring Piedmont Newton Hospital off U.S. Hwy. 278. “It’s just not conducive for the marketplace today. I knew when I bought it, I’d have to pretty quickly relocate and get a new building.”
But, Fortson’s plans were put on the back burner once Chrysler filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
“There was a period of time when, No. 1, business was not good and, No. 2, didn’t know if Chrysler was going to survive,” he recalled. “But of course they did survive, and since bankruptcy Chrysler has flourished.”
Now 11 years later, Fortson’s plan to relocate and open a new Chrysler dealership have come to fruition, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing.
Fortson said the relocation process first started about four years ago. He said the location of the Chrysler dealership in Conyers hindered him from moving his Covington dealership west, but when it moved to Stonecrest, Fortson was able to get the wheels rolling on his own relocation.
The new facility on 2251 Access Road in Covington, just a mile or two away from his Chevrolet dealership, wasn’t Fortson’s first choice for the dealership’s location.
“I had a location kind of in the industrial area that I had picked out … but Chrysler didn’t approve that property, so we didn’t move there,” he said.
Fortson said Chrysler has been in the driver seat for much of the relocation and building process. Other than a few things, such as the express lube and service area, Fortson said Chrysler controls what the facility looks like.
I had to spend $30,000 with the company they wanted me to deal with … for a design intent document, which drove what the outside looked like,” Fortson said. “People might ask me, ‘What are they paying you to do this?’ Nothing. ‘Why?’ I can’t get the product without having what’s deemed a compliant facility. That kind of drives the whole deal.”
Fortson said that’s the main reason why the almost half the dealership is designated to Jeep.
“Going forward with Chrysler, or FCA, is they’re going to put a lot of emphasis on Jeep,” he said. “That’s why you see Jeep with it’s own showroom … To get Jeep, you have to have a complaint showroom … if a dealership isn’t compliant, they aren’t going to get the product. So, that kind of determines the way the product is distributed.”
Fortson said the dealership’s construction took just over year to complete. Fortunately, he said, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t cause any major delays.
Entering his 52nd year in the auto industry, Fortson said a lot has changed over the years, but none more than what came with the invention of the internet.
“It made it a whole lot more competitive and expanded the marketplace,” he said.
Fortson said thanks to the internet, he’s sold vehicles from California to New York and many other places between. But the key to the dealership’s success is the support of Covington and all of Newton County.
“(The community), that’s our backbone and always has been,” Fortson said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here. That’s the kind of essence of who we are.”