Fargo's Corwin revs up national presence with dealerships in 7 states

In the last decade, Corwin — a name once synonymous with North Dakota car sales — has been quietly but surely revving up its national profile by buying dealerships from Washington to Missouri. With the recent acquisition of a Spokane dealership, the company now runs 13 dealerships in seven states.

Curtis Hensley in the general manager of Corwin Toyota in Fargo. Corwin has expanded its national profile by adding 14 car dealerships in seven states. David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — On a recent Sunday evening in October, every one of the 72 employees at Gus Johnson Ford in Spokane Valley, Wash., received a termination letter.

On the morning of Oct. 18, those same employees were rehired by the dealerships' new owner, Corwin Automotive Group, at the same pay, tenure and benefits.

This has become standard operating procedure when the Fargo-based automotive company acquires an out-of-state property, which Corwin has done with increasing frequency in recent years.

Corwin — a name once synonymous with North Dakota car sales — has spent the last decade quietly but surely revving up its national profile by buying up dealerships from Washington to Missouri.

With the Spokane acquisition, Corwin’s fleet now includes 13 dealerships in seven different states.


“In the last 10 years, Corwin has definitely grown outside of Fargo,” said Curtis Hensley, general manager of Corwin Toyota in Fargo.

Hensley said Corwin’s reputation as a fourth-generation family-run business has helped the company grow its “tire print.”

Gus Johnson, the previous owner of the Spokane dealership, was ready to retire and “was looking to sell to somebody who would take care of his employees and customers in a way he would,” Mario Wierzchowski, operating partner of what is now Corwin Ford Spokane, told The Spokesman-Review. “He felt we would be a good match because we are family owned and we have been in business for more than 100 years.

The Spokane acquisition is actually Corwin’s second property in Washington. Wierzchowski also is an operating partner in the Corwin Ford Tri-Cities, located about 140 miles southwest of Spokane in Pasco, Wash., and will be splitting time between the two communities.

Corwin now holds the following fleet of dealerships:

  • Fargo: Dodge, Toyota, Honda, Public Wholesale

  • Montana: Corwin Motors Kalispell and Honda Kalispell

  • Nebraska: Toyota Bellevue

  • Washington: Ford Tri Cities, Pasco, and Ford Spokane

  • Nevada: Ford Reno

  • Missouri: Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Springfield and Ford Springfield

  • Idaho: Ford Nampa

107 years on the grow

The family-owned company has come a long way since 1914, when Samuel W. Corwin bought a Bismarck bicycle shop, which sold cars on the side. Corwin turned it into a full-time auto dealership, offering Buick, Saxon and Mitchell vehicles.


One hundred and seven years later, Corwin is run by Sam's great-grandson, Tim, and Tim's sons, Drew and Tanner. And the company's mission of growth has helped it expand well beyond North Dakota borders.

A century of Corwin: 1914-2009 A timeline capturing Corwin's first century of business, beginning with Samuel W. Corwin's purchase of a bicycle shop/auto dealership in Bismarck in 1914 to its status as a fourth-generation family-owned dealership in 2009.

The company's multi-state presence has been the result of a lot of strategic planning by Corwin's leadership team, Hensley said.

Hensley said the organization has one team member whose specialty is connecting with independent dealerships that might be in the position to sell.

That team member will keep an eye out for any properties with growth potential, such as the only Ford dealership in a community or an established business in which the owner wants to retire.

"We always have feelers out there ... If you have really good CSI and take good care of your customers and have a process-driven dealership, you’re going to be in a good position to do that. You have to be someone other dealers want to deal with."

-Curtis Hensley, general manager of Corwin Toyota, Fargo

Once the dealership changes hands, the company usually aspires to improve the property, either by adding more staff or by updating the physical facilities, Hensley said. In the case of the Spokane location, Wierzchowski told the Spokesman paper that Corwin planned to expand its team to 100 by the end of the year.


A survey of the Facebook pages of Corwin dealerships also shows the company remains dedicated to hometown boosterism by participating in community fundraisers for local food pantries and other charities.

Another example of improvements is Corwin's investment in a brand-new, 75,000-square-foot facility in Springfield, Mo., to house its Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram dealership.

Although the company initially operated those dealerships at two different locations, an April story in the Springfield Business Journal reported that those two locations were being consolidated into one new-mega structure at construction costs estimated at $15 million.

Under Corwin management, it’s not unusual to see sales at a single dealership jump from 25 to 30 vehicles per month to 100 vehicles per month, Hensley said.

Increased options amid car shortage

The advantage to owning a fleet of car dealerships is not only the obvious opportunity to draw from a larger pool of customers, but also the fact it sometimes becomes easier to source vehicles of a particular make or model.

That’s especially important at a time when the auto industry is experiencing the same delays in manufacturing, shipping and supply that have dogged every other industry out there.


By owning a string of Ford dealerships, for instance, it creates opportunities for sales reps to do sales swaps online of Ford inventory so they can provide a broader selection of options to customers, Hensley said.

This is essential when supply chains are so bottlenecked that most customers need to pre-order the type of car they want. “You’re pre-selling stuff before it even gets here. We’re keeping a few cars on the grounds so people have an opportunity to drive them, (but) we’ll have over 100 cars here in the next month and a half, and 75% of them are already pre-sold,” Hensley said.

Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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