By Rachel Dutil | Photos Supplied
In the early years of the 20th century, Wilbur Egglefield, a carpenter in the Keene area of Essex County, New York, purchased Ford vehicles to help transport construction materials. As each job was completed, he would sell the vehicles. In 1910, he decided to turn selling vehicles into a business and 113 years and five generations later, the Egglefield family is still selling Ford vehicles.
At the start, Wilbur built a barn in New Russia and hung a shingle out front that identified the building as a Ford franchise. In 1917, he had built enough business that he constructed a new building and moved the dealership to Elizabethtown.
Cory Egglefield, Wilbur’s great-great grandson is the current owner of both Egglefield Brothers Ford and High Peaks Ford in Ray Brook.
Cory was working as an engineer in the automotive industry in Detroit 20 years ago when his father, Dennis, called to say he was considering picking up a second dealership, but needed Cory to come home to help run it. Cory’s job at the time involved a lot of travel and he was getting tired of that. “My original intent was to open a coffee shop in Boston,” he recalled, but ultimately, he returned to the North Country and joined his father in the family business.
Five Generations and Countless Challenges
In November 2009, as Egglefield Brothers was approaching its 100th anniversary, Automotive News featured an article about the dealership. Dennis and Cory were running the business at the time. Dennis recalled that when the business started, vehicles arrived via train, but were not fully assembled. “In those early days, Ford shipped the body, engine and wheels separately. Wilbur would go down to the train station in Westport and assemble the cars before he could drive them home.”
Ford was the first manufacturer to utilize an assembly line production model and mass produce vehicles. In terms of affordability and availability, there weren’t any other choices for Wilbur in 1910.
“We’ve been through a lot in the ensuing decades — the Great Depression, Cash for Clunkers, the Recession, the Gas Crisis, Covid,” Cory said of the business. “Every few years it seems like there is a devastating obstacle that we need to overcome.”
In 1971, that obstacle was a fire that burned the building Wilbur built to the ground. At the time, Dennis was teaching industrial arts in Keene and Wilbur’s grandsons, Spencer Jr. and Lew, were running the business. They had just finished adding a paint shop when the whole place caught fire.”
The business was underinsured. What to do? Before they would agree to rebuild, Spencer and Lew asked Dennis to take over the operation. They came to an agreement. Dennis resigned from his teaching job, joined the company and never looked back.
Dennis was at the helm of Egglefield Brothers Ford from the early 1970s until his death in 2018. Cory spent 16 years working alongside his father and said he has “very big shoes to fill.”
In 2010, to celebrate its 100th year in business, the Egglefield family brought in more than 300 Ford vehicles to the dealership representing a wide array of models from across the years.
Cory credits the business’ success to tremendous community support over the decades, during the pandemic and subsequent chip shortage and skyrocketing vehicle prices.
“We have an amazing community,” Cory exclaimed. “The loyalty of my customers has just been astounding.”
Egglefield Brothers is making investments to move the business forward, particularly in the area of green technology and electric vehicles. “We carried on and now we’re in another business state,” Cory said. “Ford is an iconic brand that has continued to innovate with its products for the last 120 years. We’re in the process right now of becoming Model-E certified, which means we are going to have modern charging stations. Hopefully that’s going to be the next chapter of our story.”
The key to the business’ longevity is customer service, Cory said. “If you don’t have customers, you don’t have business. No matter what it takes, you need to take care of your customers. If you do that well enough, they will take care of you.” That was an echo of words his father told Automotive News. “Business here is strictly about people, the relationships you build. You take care of the people and maintain those relationships. You earn their trust, you earn their business,” Dennis Egglefield said in 2009.
Although digital technology is a crucial component to their business, “It’s the human experience that makes the difference and I know it is what has allowed us to stay in business for five generations,” Cory said.
Currently, Cory is the sole member of the Egglefield family in the business, but he has 36 employees, several of whom have been with the company for 15 years or more. “It’s like a family,” he said of his team. “I have a fantastic group.”
That team is part of the customer experience, Cory said. “We want you to come here because we’ve got your back. You’ve got a staff of people behind you. If you have a question or you have an issue, you have somebody to rely on.”
Cory isn’t sure if his children will want to have a role in the family business. His advice to them, “Go do what you want to do. This will be here if you want to come back.” It was the same advice given to him.
“You have to have your heart in it, because it is a lifestyle,” Cory said, adding that there are a lot of tradeoffs that must be made to operate a small business. “You really have to want to do it in order to make it successful.”
Cory concluded, “It is a huge honor and very humbling to carry on the family business. It is a heavy obligation, but also very rewarding. We are doing well, so with that in mind, we’re planning for the future.”
Egglefield Brothers Ford
7618 US Route 9
Elizabethtown, NY 12932