Women At The Wheel

By Mckenzie Delisle Press-Republican

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Women are DRIVING the decisions at one New York state car dealership where FOUR women are leading the way.

CHAZY

Riley Ford Inc. has made "herstory" as New York state's first certified Women-Owned car dealership.

The Chazy business has four female owners, including Dealer Principal and President Joy Vanleuvan, Vice President Janet Roberts, Treasurer Jenna Seguin and Secretary Jane Dubrey.

CHANGE WITH THE TIMES Vanleuvan, whose father, Ronald Roberts, once owned Riley Ford Inc., said the local company has been selling Ford vehicles since the 1920s, or earlier.

"A big thing that my dad always preached was: 'You need to change with the times and continue to grow,'" she said.

Vanleuvan, who started in sales at Riley Ford after earning a degree in business administration degree from Clinton Community College in 1986, said the place was far from being woman-owned back then.

"(My dad) originally stuck me in the middle of the showroom with a desk and no phone," she said. "I think he thought it would be a passing fancy for me, but I really liked it.

"He saw that I was good at it, so he finally gave me an office."

EVOLUTION Typically, Vanleuvan said, family-owned dealerships have brothers or husbands involved.

"It's very, very rare that it's all women," she said.

"The car business has evolved a lot in my 33 years that I've been here.

"I used to be the only female at any of the Ford functions, and now you see that there are more of us."

DIVERSITY LACKING North Country Small Business Development Center Assistant Director and Certified Business Adviser Angela Smith said rural areas have few certified Minority and/or Women-Owned Business Enterprises.

"Compared to New York City or other more populated regions like Syracuse or Albany, we just don't have the numbers and diversity of businesses," she said.

KEEPING DOLLARS LOCAL On the New York state website, 47 Minority and/or Women-Owned Businesses are logged in the North Country Region under the 518 area code.

Searching with the same area code, but within the state's Capital Region, 553 qualified businesses are featured.

New York state's local government agencies and companies that receive government contracts are required to spend 30 percent of their budget with certified Minority and/or Women-Owned Business Enterprises, Smith said.

Without many local businesses that fit the requirement, agencies are forced to leave the area to spend that percentage elsewhere, the business adviser added.

"Thus, adding local Minority and/or Women-Owned Business Enterprises to this list will help keep dollars local," Smith said.

POISED FOR FUTURE As of yet, Riley Ford hasn't made sales thanks to the new certification, but Vanleuvan said multiple local companies had previously asked if the dealership held the state certification.

"A lot of the agencies that had to go out of the area to purchase vehicles can now purchase them from us," she said.

DAD'S LEGACY Though Vanleuvan is proud her dealership holds the state distinction, she said the path to certification had an unfortunate starting point.

Ronald, who bought the dealership in 1980, died at 75 years old in June 2012 after a 12-year battle with multiple myeloma cancer.

"When he was first diagnosed, he was given 18 months to live," Vanleuvan said. "He was a super strong-willed, really, really tough man."

Upon her father's death, Vanleuvan, in line with her father's wishes, became dealer principal.

"That was the unfortunate way that this all came about," she said.

"That's when we became all women-owned, because my dad was no longer here with us. "Of course, I would rather have my dad."

WITH FAMILY But Vanleuvan still goes to work every day with family.

Of the dealership's 32 employees, a handful, including all the partial owners, are her relatives. Janet is Vanleuvan's mother, Jane is her sister, and Jenna is Vanleuvan's eldest daughter.

The dealer principal's second daughter, Jessica Hanson, is the company's finance manager, and General Sales Manager Tony Roberts is her cousin.

NEVER PRESSURED Unlike some family-owned businesses, Vanleuvan said, she never felt pressured to work at the Ford dealership and neither did her daughters.

"My dad wanted you to choose to be here," she said. "You have to be passionate and love what you do.

"I feel very, very blessed."

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