Thompson’s is everywhere! Thompson’s Toyota is located at 140 Forni Road in Placerville, Thompson’s Chrysler/Jeep/ Dodge and Ram is next door at 126 Forni Road and Thompson’s Auto and Truck Center for GM/Chevy/Buick pre-owned vehicles is around the corner at 55 Placerville Drive.
“I’ve only had two real jobs in my life and I’m almost 70,” joked owner, Ron Thompson. His first job was in the 1970s washing cars for Frank Hurling Chevrolet in Sacramento. Thompson worked his way up doing almost every job available at the large dealership until he left 26 years later as the general manager.
“We (Hurling Chevrolet) were the hot deal back then with 12 acres and about 240 employees,” Thompson recalled. “Frank Hurling became like my father. When the dealership sold, he told me if I wanted to open my own dealership, he would help me. And he did.”
In 1989 Ron Thompson and his wife Betty decided to open a dealership.
“We looked for locations in Nevada and all over the valley and then we found a little place in Placerville on Broadway that was a Chrysler/Buick/ Jeep/ Pontiac dealership and we bought it,” he said. “We sold everything we had to finance it, including our house. We only kept a little Jeep and an aluminum boat. Frank Hurling loaned us the rest.
“We had only two acres and 14 new cars when we started and now we have about 500 new cars and a couple of hundred used cars on the lots,” Thompson added
The Thompsons worked hard, putting in a lot of hours. “We lived in a house on Campbell Lane so close to the dealership that we could hear the page go off.”
In 1994 son Jeff, who had recently married, left his job at Fish and Game and came to work for the dealership. “He started at the bottom, in the shop, and worked up,” said Ron. “He’s now the executive general manager for Thompson’s Toyota and the owner of the Chrysler/ Dodge/Jeep dealership next door.”
Thompson’s is definitely a family business as Ron’s daughter and husband own Niemann’s Auto Touch auto detailing, located next to Thompson’s Chrysler/Jeep/ Dodge.
“Through the years, we developed things,” said Ron Thompson. “The place where Wells Auto is across from Raley’s — that was our used car lot. We bought the Placerville Drive facility in the ‘90s and moved our used car lot there and now it’s where our GMC/Chevrolet/Buick store is located.”
Thompson’s bought out Stancil’s Toyota on upper Main Street in 1997. “It was the oldest Toyota store in the nation under the same owner when we bought it,” said Ron.
In 2000 Thompson’s bought the property on Forni Road and moved its Toyota dealership there. They moved the Chrysler/Jeep dealership to Main Street. “But Chrysler didn’t like the new location and we lost the franchise,” said Ron.
The loss of the franchise wasn’t a problem after the economy took a dive and car dealerships struggled.
“We tried a used car lot in Cameron Park, so that we could have some exposure down the hill,” said Ron, “but it hasn’t worked for us.”
Something that did work for Thompson’s was going digital. “Before the economy crashed, we had a presence on the Internet,” said Jeff Thompson. “But with the crash, we needed an edge so we researched the statistics about what people wanted and targeted that. We were turning our inventory over 18 times a year.”
Digital marketing has been a winning technique for Thompson’s, which sells used cars all over the world, including to customers in South Africa, Russia and Dubai.
“Gone are the days when people would come in and ask to see all the Camrys,” Jeff said. “Now, they look for vehicles online and they come in and ask about specific cars. Sixty percent of our sales are from out of the county.”
The city of Placerville receives 1 percent of the sales tax even if the customer is not a resident of Placerville.
“We now have three dealerships with about 180 employees and we sell about 300 cars a month,” said Ron.
Another technique that has worked is keeping customers comfortable. A recent facility upgrade to Toyota’s current standards was also designed to provide a relaxing space for customers. “We didn’t want it to be just a huge white space,” Jeff said. “We wanted it to be like home.”
A fireplace, comfortable couches and a Starbuck’s café were added to the remodel. “When Toyota came to check it out, it was a big hit,” Ron said. “They loved the fireplace.”
Innovation isn’t new to Thompson’s.
“I used to race Jeeps before we had the dealership,” said Ron. “In 1990 I started thinking about what I could do differently and I came up with a lifted Wrangler and we sold it as an option we called the Rubicon. It sold well and then we added more stuff to it and called it the Rubicon Unlimited and it sold like crazy for several years. Then we stopped selling it. Later, Jeep came out with its own Rubicon.”
Two years ago Chrysler came to Thompson’s and asked if they would be interested in opening a Chrysler dealership again. “They wanted to be back in Placerville, so we had a family discussion and decided to do it,” said Ron. “Jeff and his wife, Tracy, opened it in January and it’s doing well.”
Being a presence in the community is also important to the Thompsons. Both Ron and Jeff are members of the Placerville Rotary Club. “We’ve done a lot of good community work through the Rotary and internationally, too,” said Ron.
Ron Thompson is also active in helping the Western Slope Boys & Girls Club, especially with the construction of the new building, and he is very involved in the annual Toys for Tots program.
“We’ve been involved with every charity in the county,” said Ron. “Now, we’re also involved in Amador County charities; we’ve kind of adopted them and they’ve adopted us.”
Ron Thompson’s latest venture is Foothill 7 Television.
“I wanted to do something more for the community than just write a check,” he said.
He became a co-owner of Foothill 7 with founder Michael Dennis three years ago, and built a new studio with the intention of featuring stories about the community and the various non-profit organizations who serve it. “We film, edit and air shows featuring charities at no charge to them.”
He is proud of their show “Sheriffs of El Dorado County,” which is carried on Fox 40 and has the Nielsen No. 1 rating for its time slots.
The businesses are growing and doing well. “We hired about 50 people this year in different areas and we need more,” Ron said. “We’re hiring.”
Contact Thompson’s Toyota at (530) 903-4570 or visit thompsonstoyota.com.