Foster Motors has a new owner — Todd Stone
MIDDLEBURY — Todd Stone of G. Stone Motors will soon close on a deal to buy Foster Motors, thus ensuring two of Middlebury’s largest vehicle dealerships will remain under local family ownership.
While the transaction is huge, the changes — from a consumer’s standpoint — will be relatively small, according to the Stone and Foster families.
G. Stone Motors, at 36 Boardman St., will continue to be a Ford dealership, under the same name.
Foster, at 2149 Route 7 South, will be renamed “Stone Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram,” featuring the same four automotive brands that the Fosters have offered for generations. Stone and his general manager, Travis Romano, will helm both businesses. They expect no major employment changes at the two enterprises, which currently support a combined 70 workers.
“I’m very nervous, but I’m very excited,” Todd Stone said during an interview with the Independent that included Romano and Dave Foster, who co-owns Foster Motors with his brother Scott.
Both Stone and the Fosters said there were only a few i’s to dot and t’s to cross before the deal is consummated, which should occur within a few days, according to Stone.
It’s a transaction built on the hard work of two local families, a lot of research and a little serendipity.
Scott and Dave Foster have for the past few years been thinking about who’d take the keys to the dealership once they were ready to retire. The next generation of Fosters has picked vocations outside of the automotive industry.
“The decision (to sell) was a fairly easy one to make,” Dave Foster said. “Scott is 62, and wanted to retire. I’ll be 60 this year, and I didn’t want to run the dealership myself. ”
At the same time, Todd Stone, 51, had been looking to add what he considered one missing ingredient to G. Stone Motors.
“We were talking about putting a body shop in because we wanted to finish it off and be a full Ford dealership,” Stone said. “The only thing we didn’t have was the body shop.”
And Foster Motors has for years had a body shop, one that G. Stone Motors had been steering clients to who needed such service.
G. Stone founder Gardner Stone — Todd’s dad — had learned last year through informal conversations with the Fosters that they were open to selling their business. Gardner encouraged his son to buy the property.
“He said, ‘You really need to think about this,’” Todd recalled. He said his first reaction was, “Absolutely ‘no.’
“I’m conservative and (my father) is not,” Todd Stone laughed. “Let’s put it this way. He jumps right in, my dad does.”
Two dealerships, he reasoned, could double the stress level that comes with running a major business. But he began to warm to the idea after talking it over with Romano, 38, and then directly with the Fosters.
“Obviously, they have a body shop down there, plus they have four (vehicle brands), and I started to get more interested,” Todd Stone said. “I talked to Travis a lot, because I wasn’t going to do anything unless Travis was 100-percent on board.“
And in the end, he saw it his dad’s way, and thanked him for his encouragement on this purchase, as well as being at the helm of Addison County’s largest dealership.
“None of this would have been possible is it wasn’t for my father,” Todd Stone said. “Not without all the hard work and great job he’s done running G. Stone for all these years.”
The elder Stone, reached by phone on Tuesday, was pleased his son followed through with the purchase.
“I was proud of Todd for taking off and going with this,” Gardner Stone said. “This is entirely his venture. I’m there if he wants my two cents.”
Bold moves don’t come without risk, but they can pay nice dividends, he noted.
“In any business, you’ve got to be progressive and aggressive,” he said. “Once you get complacent, then things start to go backwards. You’ve got to keep your eye on the ball and see what the next horizon is and be prepared to go for it, if it feels right. There are a lot of opportunities that come along and you’ve got to decide, ‘Is it right for us or not?’ If you have that gut feeling that this is something you need to do, then you need to act on your gut feeling. That’s how I’ve run my whole life.”
The Fosters were pleased to find a local buyer, as opposed to a large, out-of-town automotive corporation.
“We’re actually very happy to be working with Todd Stone and his group, because it means that everything stays with an Addison County family,” Scott Foster said through a written statement. “They are a great family and we’re really excited to be helping them as they transition. I think it’s going to be pretty smooth for our employees and customers.”
“It was very intriguing and interesting for myself knowing that it would still be run by a local family,” Dave Foster said. “It was exciting, yet bittersweet, to see that the heritage of everything would be united, and it will still be ‘Middlebury.’”
Dave Foster turned to Todd Stone and spoke these reassuring words.
“To see it continuing is very exciting for me, Todd, and I am happy for you,” he said. “I see where you’re at in this. You’ve got your work cut out for you, but you’re up to it. You have some really great people who are going to make this work, and I can feel that.”
He thanked Todd Stone for not insisting on a no-compete clause as part of the Foster Motors transaction. This will allow Foster to pivot full circle to that used-car venture he’d mapped out for himself four decades ago. He told the Independent he plans to open “Dave’s Foster Care Auto” at the former carpet/flooring business at 8772 Route 7 north in New Haven, as soon as this March.
Both dealerships have maintained a collaborative rather than competitive relationship over the years, according to Romano.
“We’ve always worked very well together,” he said. “If there is a situation where we needed something in a hurry I wouldn’t hesitate to call the Fosters and I think they wouldn’t either. That’s the type of relationship we’ve had.”
“The Fosters are great people” Gardner Stone said. “I’ve known them my whole life. Their values are a lot the same as ours, as far as the community goes and so on. They very much wanted somebody local or a family interest taking it over. So it worked for both of us.”
Dave Foster credited his wife, Lisa, for supporting family business interests though the years.
“She did the customer service phone calls for the dealership for 30 years, and knew pretty much everything that was going on,” Dave Foster said. “When I got home, she would hand me problems if they were problems or good things if they were good things and prospects if they were prospects. She was like that silent partner for many years. She’s been a bigger part (of the business) than she’ll ever know… She’s always been there for me.”
Now Todd’s wife, Stacey, may also be preparing to play a customer service role in the expanded business, although on a more limited basis to start, Todd said.
Romano promised customers the same service and products that have kept both businesses firing on all cylinders for decades. And the future looks bright with another Stone — Todd’s son, Justin — waiting in the wings. Justin, 23, recently graduated from college with a four-year degree in automotive management and marketing.
“I don’t think we would be as invested in this future of both businesses if it weren’t for knowing that (Justin) is that generation coming up through, ready to take it over,” Romano said. “He is part of that equation, whether he ends up being here (at G. Stone) or there, or both places. Watching him grow in this business… I think that’s fantastic.”
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.